Vermiculite is a flaky, naturally occurring mineral similar in appearance to mica. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, vermiculite has the unique property of expanding to up to 50 times its original size under high heat, and has made for excellent insulation in millions of homes and commercial buildings. However, vermiculite also often contains asbestos fibres, posing real and serious danger to people. Understanding these dangers is crucial to your health–and integral to living a longer life.
Exposure to vermiculite materials can cause a serious type of cancer called mesothelioma, in which the abdominal lining and part of the lungs are affected. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, symptoms of mesothelioma include tumour appearance, muscle weakness, fever, and weight loss.
Mesothelioma occurs usually after many years of exposure to asbestos-bearing vermiculite materials, with its symptoms starting to appear anywhere from 10 to 40 years after breathing in asbestos fibres from vermiculite insulation or other materials made from the mineral.
Requiring much shorter increments of time to show up than mesothelioma–often only a few years rather than decades–asbestosis is another danger of vermiculite. Contracted from inhaling airborne asbestos from vermiculite, this disease has a slightly better prognosis than mesothelioma, although it is still serious.
Asbestosis can manifest with a crackling sound at the end of inhalation into the lungs, and can lead to shortness of breath that persists over many years. Although not terminal on its own, asbestosis can contribute to other respiratory disorders such as emphysema and lung cancer.
Another health danger caused by vermiculite contaminated with asbestos fibres, lung cancer is a terminal illness that–like mesothelioma–can take many years to develop. Exposure to vermiculite combined with smoking and other risk factors can greatly increase a person's risk for lung cancer.
Chronic cough, weight loss and chest pain are eventual side effects of lung cancer. This danger of vermiculite is deadly, and if you have worked with insulation, fencing or other materials containing vermiculite in the past, it is vital to consult your physician about the possibilities of asbestos-induced lung cancer. As with all dangers of vermiculite, seeing your doctor early, asking her questions and getting X-rays done of your chest and abdomen will greatly reduce the level of danger from past or present exposure to vermiculite.