Is vermiculite safe

ccgpro(5)October 29, 2007

Thought I would pass along an article from the November/December issue of How-To Gardening.


Spotlight on vermiculite

Is vermiculite safe for houseplants? If not, what's a good substitute? -Ruth Allen, Snohomish, WA.

Vermiculite doesn't pose a threat to plants. It's humans who are at risk from exposure to the asbestos that's contained in some products made from vermiculite. For decades, W R. Grace and Co. mined vermiculite near Libby, Montana. The asbestos-contaminated mineral was made into home insulation and other products. Though the Libby mine shut down in 1990, vermiculite continues to be mined elsewhere, and in 2000 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found low levels of asbestos in some soil amendments and premixed potting soils that contain vermiculite. According to the EPA, "Potential exposure to asbestos from vermiculite products poses only a minimal health risk to consumers."

Despite the minimal risk, the EPA does suggest finding an alternative to vermiculite. Depending on what you use them for, bark, perlite, sawdust, and sand may be good substitutes. If you do use vermiculite, keep it moist to reduce the amount of dust (and asbestos fiber) getting into the air. Use it outside or in an area with good ventilation, and don't bring the dust inside on clothing or shoes. Choose premixed potting soil over pure vermiculite, as it contains more moisture and is less likely to release asbestos fibers into the air.

To root cuttings, try clean sand or perlite. You can also find horticultural-grade vermiculite over the Internet.

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I don't know how safe it is but I prefer perlite personally. I don't think vermiculite is needed for anything. Need more moisture retaining properties? Use peat moss.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2007 at 9:24PM
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I think asbestos is an issue with vermiculite. Personally, i think the best combination of media out there are: peat, sand, and LFS. You get good drainage and some water retention.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2007 at 12:43PM
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Wow! I must be the only one in the whole world that has not heard of the asbestos contaminated vermiculite. IÂm a three year newbe with carnivorous plants. I thought I read everything I could about soil mixtures and never ran across this issue.
Maybe IÂm just a little jumpy after just having a Lymphoma the size of a grapefruit, sixteen inches of large intestines, twelve inches of small intestines, my appendix and sixteen lymph nodes removed. Not to worry IÂm fine now, cancer free!
Please let the post drop!


    Bookmark   October 30, 2007 at 11:29PM
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Do a search for Libby, Montana. There is a vermiculite mine called W.R. Grace there. The mining company gave vermiculite away to the community for things like insulation, the school track, and for amending soil in lawns. Some people believe they knew of the dangers of asbestos in vermiculite and gave it away anyhow. Now the population of Libby has an abnormally high occurrence of respiratory problems. I believe there is a class action lawsuit against the mine.

I use vermiculite occasionally but always moisten it before mixing. A mask doesn't hurt either.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2007 at 9:25AM
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