Dangers of Asbestos Attic Insulation: 5 Things you Need to Know

If you reside in a home that was built, or remodeled, prior to 1990, the possibility exists that you may have attic insulation that contains asbestos. There exists a good many misconceptions about attic insulation and asbestos. In order to protect the safety and health of your loved ones, you need to familiarize yourself with basic facts and factors associated with the dangers of asbestos attic insulation.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is not just “one thing.” Rather, it is a set of six different, naturally occurring silicate minerals. These silicate minerals, or asbestos, have been mined for over 4,000. Large scale mining of asbestos began apace at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Throughout much of the 20th century, asbestos was widely utilized in various products and in construction. Asbestos was incorporated in insulation of different types, including attic insulation.

Asbestos is dangerous because it contains what are known as fibrous crystals. These are thin, visible fibers. These fibers consist of millions of microscopic fibrils. As will be discussed in a moment, these fibrils can cause serious and even fatal illnesses.

These fibrils are released through a process known as abrasion. What this really means is that if asbestos is disturbed, these microscopic fibrils break free and become airborne.

Fibrils can easily break free and become airborne when an effort is made to remove asbestos from a residence. For example, if you do have asbestos attic insulation and decide to remove it, that process will cause hazardous fibrils to become airborne.

Why is Asbestos Dangerous?

When the fibrils, or asbestos fibers, are released into the air, they can easily be inhaled. The inhalation of fibrils, or asbestos fibers, can severely impact a person’s lungs in a negative manner. The asbestos fibers can cause serious and oftentimes fatal illnesses or diseases that include:

  • Lung cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Asbestosis (which is a type of pneumoconiosis)

These diseases oftentimes didn’t develop until a considerable time after a person was exposed to asbestos. The injuries or illnesses and even deaths associated with asbestos exposure has resulted in the longest and most expensive “mass tort” litigation in United States history. 

The harmful health consequences of exposure to asbestos were suspected for many years. With that reality noted, asbestos continued to be widely utilized into the 1980s. It was at this juncture in time that the use of asbestos was highly restricted or banned all together in countries the world over.

How to Identify Asbestos Attic Insulation in Your Home

There is one primary source of asbestos attic insulation. (There are other sources of asbestos in attic insulation, but this single source significantly outpaces the others.) The primary source of asbestos attic insulation is from a specific mine in Montana operated for 70 years by the Libby company, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The insulation was sold under the brand name Zonolite.

Vermiculite is utilized for attic insulation, as well as other purposes. Vermiculite in and of itself is not dangerous. However, the vermiculite used in about 70 percent of the Zonolite product came from the Montana mine mentioned a moment ago. The vermiculite obtained from this source was contaminated with something called tremolite, which is an asbestos-like mineral. Thus, asbestos incidentally became a part of the loose-fill attic insulation manufactured under the brand name Zonelite. Although an unintentional addition, this type of attic insulation presents a potential danger. The Libby mine in question was shuttered in 1990.

There are a number of factors to consider when it comes to attempting to ascertain if you have asbestos attic insulation in your home. You may have this type of insulation in your attic if your home was built or remodeled prior to 1990. Odds are reduced, but not completely eliminated, if your home was built or renovated after 1990.

If your insulation contains particles that have a silver-gold or gray-brown color, it may contain asbestos. Another indicator is the referenced particles also have an accordion-like look or texture. Finally, you may have attic insulation containing asbestos if it lies flat in the joist cavities and does not puff up like snow.

Test for Asbestos in Attic Insulation

There two types of test kits available on the market today that can assist you in ascertaining if you have asbestos in your attic insulation. One type of kit allows you to get an immediate result. However, if you make even a minor mistake in the sample collection and testing process, you can get an inaccurate result.

The second type of test only requires you to obtain a tiny sample of the insulation and submit it to a designated lab for testing. Although you will not get an immediate result, you will be assured of getting an accurate one.

There are also professionals who can come to your home to inspect and test your attic insulation for the presence of asbestos. Keep in mind that you should engage an independent asbestos inspector and not a person or firm held out as providing both inspection and removal services.

Removal of Asbestos Attic Insulation

As mentioned previously, disturbing asbestos can result in the release of dangerous fibrils or asbestos fibers than ultimately result in a person exposed suffering a serious or even fatal illness. Bearing this reality in mind, engaging the services of a professional to remove asbestos attic insulation is the recommended course, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Not only does a professional have the equipment and experience necessary to properly, safely remove asbestos attic insulation, a trained professional knows how undertake this task without spreading asbestos fibers throughout an attic or the residence as a whole. In addition, a professional knows how to properly and lawfully dispose of asbestos attic insulation following the completion of the removal process.