The horticulture industry uses vermiculite, a light mineral, in commercial potting-mix formulas to increase the soil’s water-retention capacity and to improve air circulation for the roots. However, vermiculite poses several health risks. Most of the vermiculite mined between 1919 and 1990 in the United States was contaminated with asbestos. But even pure vermiculite produces enough dust to cause coughing and eye irritation.
It doesn’t take long after exposure to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite for your lungs to begin to deteriorate. But it can be years before you feel the symptoms of lung cancer, already in its advanced stage. These symptoms include weight loss, fever, chronic coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain.
Another cancer, mesothelioma, affects the abdominal cavity and the lining of the lungs. Asbestos-contaminated vermiculite has the potential to trigger this disease, which causes dry coughing, chest and shoulder pain, weight loss, weakness and fever.
Coughing and Eye Irritation
Vermiculite particles are a nuisance dust that make you cough and irritate your eyes’ membranes. To avoid this reaction to handling vermiculite, wear protective goggles and a mask. Short-term exposure to nuisance dust doesn’t cause permanent health damage, but long-term inhalation leads to silicosis.
Vermiculite is a silicate, the cause of silicosis. This incurable disease develops when you inhale vermiculite dust over a prolonged period. The vermiculite particles scar your lungs, making it hard for you to breathe.
Asbestosis is an irreversible disease that damages the middle and lower lungs and is caused by inhaling asbestos fibres over a long period. Contaminated vermiculite poses the same health risk. If you suffer from asbestosis, you experience shortness of breath. With the help of a stethoscope, your doctor also hears a rattling sound in your lungs as you finish inhaling.
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- The Vermiculite Association: Applications
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Asbestos: Vermiculite
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety Resource: Vermiculite Insulation Containing Asbestos
- Delta Education: Identity: Vermiculite
- United States Department of Labor: OSHA: Chapter 1: Dust and Its Control