EPA Bows to Pressure; Will Warn Public About Zonolite

National Information Campaign Slated to Tell Public About Zonolite Safety Problems

WASHINGTON, DC-February 28, 2003-The federal government will finally warn homeowners about the dangers of asbestos-contaminated Zonolite insulation, according to recent news reports (Star Tribune, February 7, 2003; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 17, 2003). The original alert, which was scheduled for last April, was halted because of intervention from the White House, according to various sources (see White House Squelched Alert on Asbestos Insulation). Last month, the media picked up the story about the government's secrecy, and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) made a speech in the Senate condemning the failure to notify homeowners.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokesman David Cohen said that the agency will make a major announcement about Zonolite within the next month. He declined to say what form the message would take beyond instructions not to disturb Zonolite if it has not been damaged (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 17, 2003). Mr. Cohen indicated that the EPA would begin a nationwide campaign to alert the public about Zonolite dangers. "There could be news conferences, press releases and pamphlets distributed in hardware and home improvement stores," he said. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also plans to issue a warning to workers about the asbestos-containing insulation.

Both agencies claim that they had been waiting for the results of tests conducted for the EPA by a Virginia consulting firm, Versar Inc. (Star Tribune, February 7, 2003). The firm's draft report analyzed the asbestos content of Zonolite insulation purchased in Washington state, California, Illinois, Maryland, and Florida, as well as tested samples found in Vermont homes. The tests showed that stirring up the samples to simulate an attic installation produced asbestos air levels that were four, five, and even 26 times thepermissible worker exposure level of 0.1 asbestos fiber per cubic centimeter.

History of Zonolite/Vermiculite Insulation

Most Zonolite insulation is derived from asbestos-containing vermiculite, a mineral ore resembling mica that was mined in Libby, Montana, a town that has become a Superfund site due to its asbestos contamination problem. Libby vermiculite was shipped throughout the nation, and processed into Zonolite. Up to 35 million U.S. homes may contain the insulation.

Zonolite becomes a problem when it is damaged or disturbed. Home renovation or drilling into the insulation releases asbestos fibers or asbestos dust into the air.

If you know you have Zonolite insulation in your attic or walls, you may want to test the material to see if it contains asbestos. We suggest hiring a trained certified consultant or contractor to collect the sample and get it analyzed at a laboratory. You many contact a regional EPA office, your local health department, and the Better Business Bureau, for a list of professionals in your area.