Keep Our Families Safe

Homeowners Not Warned of Danger in the Attic

Because of widespread news coverage in recent years, many people know that asbestos is a serious health hazard that has poisoned millions of workers. But did you know that as many as 35 million American attics are insulated with a product that contains an especially deadly form of asbestos?

This type of loose-fill insulation, called Zonolite, was sold for decades by W.R. Grace & Co. The product is so dangerous that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) planned to issue a nationwide warning to homeowners. It was supposed to go out last April, but then something happened.
 
According to an investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the White House stepped in and stopped the EPA from making the announcement. The newspaper reported that the White House Office of Management and Budget was to blame, but no one in the federal government would explain what happened.
 
That’s disturbing to the consumer group Public Citizen and U.S. Senator Patty Murray of Washington State, who introduced a bill to require a public-education campaign about Zonolite. They say the U.S. government is failing to protect American families and they want answers from the White House.
 
“I just find it astounding that when this kind of information is available that can save people’s lives, that this administration has decided to keep that secret and not let people know,” Senator Murray told The Associated Press. “Here’s a health risk we can do something about.”
 
Along with the Zonolite warning, the EPA had been planning to declare a public-health emergency in Libby, Montana. The town once housed a W.R. Grace & Co. mining operation that exposed thousands of miners and their families to asbestos-contaminated vermiculite ore, killing hundreds of them and sickening many more.
 
Vermiculite ore, which was used to make Zonolite, was shipped throughout the United States by W.R. Grace. The company still maintains that Zonolite, which it stopped selling in the mid-1980s, poses “no unreasonable risk of injury or illness” to homeowners.
 
“Unfortunately, the federal government has a long legacy of failing to adequately protect people from exposure to asbestos, and W.R. Grace has a long legacy of withholding information about asbestos contamination from the public,” Senator Murray said in a letter to the head of the Office of Management and Budget. “The situation in Libby is a tragic testament to government inaction and corporate irresponsibility.”

How can you tell if your attic contains Zonolite, which was sold in bags labeled “Zonolite Attic Insulation,” in your home? According to the web site DoItYourself.com, Zonolite looks like “like small, slightly puffy nuggets about 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch in length (similar in size to a pencil eraser). They range in color from silvery-gray to gold to brown and typically have a slight glittery appearance when clean. After years in the attic, however, Zonolite typically takes on a darker gray or black appearance.”

 Asbestos experts say the only way to know for sure is to have a sample tested for asbestos. They caution homeowners not to disturb suspicious insulation, which can release asbestos fibers into the air. Contractors who specialize in handling and removing asbestos are the best people for the job, but you should check to be sure they are properly trained and certified.
 
For more information, contact your state’s Department of Health or your regional EPA office. For EPA contacts in your area, go to http://www.epa.gov.