Although the other roughly 30% of vermiculite sold in the U.S. came from mines that do not have asbestos contamination, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not recommend that you test the vermiculite insulation in your attic for asbestos content. There are several reasons:

  1. 1)The asbestos is not evenly distributed in the Zonolite insulation and sampling may miss it or underestimate the overall level of asbestos in the product.

  2. 2)The insulation in the attic may be a mixture of Zonolite and another brand.

  3. 3)It was recently determined even less than 1% asbestos contamination of the vermiculite insulation is hazardous because the particular type of asbestos (tremolite) in the vermiculite is especially “friable,” meaning that the dangerous fibers are easily released to float in the air.

    What the EPA does recommend is that you have an asbestos abatement contractor remove it, and not disturb the insulation in any way until you do. Stay out of the attic, do not allow workmen to enter, and do not add or remove stored items in the attic. Also, do not try to remove the vermiculite yourself. The tan or gray granules may be partially hidden under a layer of new insulation, as in the photo below.

    Here’s the catch: the ZAI Trust only offers reimbursement for removal of Zonolite insulation produced from the Libby mine. You first have to file a claim, and then send them a sample, which they will chemically verify as Zonolite before processing your claim. If you find any empty Zonolite bags laying around the attic, send a picture of them along with your claim and it will help bolster your chance of approval. The reimbursement is for 55% of the cost of removal and replacement of the insulation, up to $7,500  of documented expenses (or a maximum of $4,125 reimbursed). If your sample comes back as not from the Libby mine, you are out of luck—but still need to remove the vermiculite, according to the EPA.

    For more information, go to the Zonolite Attic Insulation Trust website at It has information and forms for a claim, sampling instructions, state-specific data, along with extensive other useful information. You may also want to visit the EPA webpage “Protect Your Family From Asbestos-Contaminated Vermiculite Insulation.”

    One final note: although many home inspectors are aware of the contamination of asbestos in vermiculite attic insulation and will point it out to you when observed, it is often concealed under newer insulation and inspection for asbestos or any other environmental contaminant is beyond the scope of a home inspection as defined by the Standards of Practice of all the major home inspection associations, specifically excluded in most home inspection contracts, and is not referenced as required by the Standards of Practice for Home Inspections of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

While we hope you find this series of articles about home inspection helpful, they should not be considered an alternative to an actual home inspection by a local inspector. Also, construction standards vary in different parts of the country and it is possible that important issues related to your area may not be covered here.
© McGarry and Madsen Inspection


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