Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Vermiculite and asbestos

Several years ago I wanted to buy some vermiculite to root some cuttings (and later to make hypertufa) but wasn't able to find some so I settled for perlite. A few years later I finally located a few bags of vermiculite in one of the big box home improvement stores-I can't remember which one. I thought it odd that it was so hard to find because previously vermiculite could be found in almost any garden store.

I just read several disturbing investigative articles in our local newspaper (Times of Trenton) about a now closed W.R. Grace Company vermiculite processing plant located in central New Jersey. Apparently the company was using tremolite asbestos contaminated mica to make the vermiculite by heating it to a high temperature until the mica would pop or puff up because the moisture contained in the mica would instantly turn to steam much like making pop corn. This vermiculite was named zonolite and used as attic insulation in as much as 30 million homes but also sold as a mixture in potting soils and bagged as garden vermiculite. The article dealt with the asbestos dust contamination of the surrounding neighborhood and the workers affected by breathing the choking dust that was so thick they could barely see much less breathe and their subsequent medical problems.

I don't know if this is why we see a dearth of vermiculite in stores but it is disturbing to think that many of us may have been unknowingly exposed to asbestos. Of course there must have been other companies producing and may be still producing uncontaminated vermiculite but according to the article the Libby mine (Libby, Montana) produced 75% of the world's ore contaminated with tremolite asbestos which the W.R. Grace Company used to produce the vermiculite.

Not a pleasant thing to contemplate.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have had a hard time finding vermiculite myself. I was told by an employee of a hardware store that they didn't carry vermiculite because it contained asbestos...something I found alarming since many gardening books suggest using it for seed starting.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Ki said...

To anonymous,
It is alarming because I still see shiny flecks of vermiculite in some of the potting soil mixes though almost all have been replaced by perlite.

5:23 AM  
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