NYSDOH Issues New Guidance For Vermiculite Insulation

Back in April  2011, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) Environmental Laboratory Approval Program (ELAP) along with the NYSDOH Bureau of Occupational Health (BOH) along with the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) issued a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) that are commonly received by the agencies regarding asbestos analysis. This FAQ List was distributed to all ELAP- accredited asbestos laboratories and posted on the DOL website.

Recently, NYSDOH revised FAQ #10 “How can I tell if vermiculite contains asbestos or what sampling methods should be used? “ This new interpretation applies to renovation and/or demolishing of structures with vermiculite insulation and the origin of the vermiculite material is unknown.

NYSDOH explains in its new answer that the majority of the world’s supply of vermiculite historically came from a mine located near Libby, Montana that was closed in 1990 due to high levels of asbestos contamination. The vermiculite insulation which was often sold under the brand name Zonolite and a structural fireproofing material known as  “Monokote. Indeed, Monokote was extensively used in commercial buildings in the 1960s and 1970s. NYSDOH said vermiculite insulation from the Libby mine typically contained 1% to 5% of asbestos.

Since there is no mechanism to visually distinguish Libby Mine vermiculite from vermiculite from other mines, EPA has continued to emphasize caution when a building is being remediated and the origin of the vermiculite material is unknown. Indeed, the NYS Industrial Code Rule 56 (12 NYCRR Part 56) lists vermiculite as a suspect miscellaneous asbestos-containing material. NYSDOH advises that contractors and building owners should assume that vermiculite insulation contains asbestos.

The new answer addreses two categories of vermiculite insulation materials. For vermiculite used in thermal systems insulation, surfacing materials (i.e., spray-on fireproofing) and other miscellaneous ACM, the NYS ELAP Certification Manual Item 198.1 (PLM Friable) may be used. If vermiculite is calculated to be less than 10% of the entire material composition and no asbestos fibers are detected, the material may be reported as non-ACM. However, if any asbestos fibers are identified, an asbestos analysis must proceed according to Item 198.1 PLM and reported/managed as ACM. If vermiculite is calculated to be 10% or more of the material, the material must be reported as ACM. In other words, these building materials with more than 10% vermiculite will be presumed to be ACM and must comply with ACM notification and workpractices. This is essentially a non-rebuttable presumption because NYSDOH has taken the position that there are no reliable sampling protocols for determining asbestos content in vermiculite. It appears the only way to avoid having to manage the materials  is to verify that the vermiculite did not originate from the Libby mine (see last paragraph).

The second category of vermiculite insulation is attic fill, block fill and other loose bulk vermiculite materials. The NYSDOH guidance says this type of vermiculite poses greater public health concern because the loose material can easily release asbestos fibers if disturbed during renovation or demolition projects. Because there are no currently approved analytical methodology to reliably confirm vermiculite as non-asbestos, NYSDOH states these materials must be assumed to be  contaminated with asbestos and therefore designated as ACM.

NYSDOH did note that NYS Industrial Code Rule 56-5.1(c) allows for other documentation such as manufacturer documentation that adequately documents that a material is non-ACM (e.g., MSDS) in lieu of bulk sample analysis. The NYSDOH guidance states that this documentation, along with any available documentation indicating the origin of the vermiculite material, should be shared with the building owner for future renovation and demolition projects.