National Public Radio reports that according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, heating costs in colder states can account for two thirds of a family’s annual energy costs. In warmer parts of the nation, the largest share of energy use comes from air conditioners and insulation can impact these costs greatly. That means that inefficient or poor home insulation can drive up utility costs for individual homeowners and accelerate national fuel consumption, producing greater emission levels. In response, the government has funded massive winterization programs aimed at getting homeowners to improve their home insulation and reduce energy usage.
The largest amount of insulation in a home is often found in the attic, meaning these government programs often targeted insulation in this area. However, an AOL News report explains that some attic insulation installed as late as the 1990s contained asbestos or asbestos-contaminated vermiculite. According to the EPA, the major culprit of this tainted insulation is W.R. Grace, who produced the insulation material known as Zonolite from its mines in Libby, Montana. In fact, the EPA reports that over 75 percent of the world’s mined vermiculite ore came from this Libby mine.
Today, several million homes across the nation, especially in cold climates, likely remain tainted with this material containing asbestos. Many of these homes were built in the years following World War II, leading to Zonolite’s rise in popularity in the 1940s. Although the mineral vermiculite itself is not dangerous, it is often mined from deposits that also contain asbestos. It is this asbestos-contaminate vermiculite that presents a health hazard. Though new mining regulations are in place to prevent such contamination, both materials were widely used before the dangers of asbestos had been publicized.
The older vermiculite-based or asbestos forms of insulation remain relatively safe as long as homeowners do not make contact with or disturb it in any way. Damaging the material causes it to release toxic asbestos fibers, which can suspend in a home’s air for hours, allowing it to be inhaled. Unfortunately, home renovation and government-promoted insulation updates often allows fibers to find their way into the main areas of the home. This leads to a health risk for all those inside. Additionally, anyone who has manufactured, installed, or removed this type of insulation is at risk for developing an asbestos-related disease. Although this form of insulation is no longer used, its threat remains today as older homes containing the material receive improvements and renovations that expose the dangerous particles. References: AOL News EPA NPR