Asbestos in Vermiculite – August 2013

A team of Colden Corporation scientists collaborated with The Business Council of New York State, major corporations, and laboratories to help New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) manage challenges associated with asbestos in vermiculite.  Vermiculite ore mined in Libby, Montana, and other locations can be contaminated with asbestos.  Employees who worked in mining and processing facilities suffered a significant increase in asbestos-related disease due to contamination.

In June 2012, the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) required DOH approved laboratories to presume samples of all building materials with more than 10% vermiculite content as asbestos-containing material (ACM), without permitting laboratories to analyze samples for asbestos.  This ruling placed ominous facilities-management, public and employee health risk communication, and economic burdens on businesses, non-profit organizations, and state agencies.  This approach also placed unnecessary burdens on property owners recovering from storm and flood damage.

New York was the only state in the U.S. to maintain this position.  The forty-nine other states, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) allow analysis, and therefore do not require presuming vermiculite-containing building materials to be ACM.  California accepts results using OSHA analysis methods, while other states accept EPA methods.  Additionally, NYS did not provide an approved method for identifying and quantifying vermiculite.  Rulemaking procedures allowing stakeholders a voice, studying feasibility, and evaluating economic impact were not followed prior to restricting laboratories from analyzing vermiculite-containing building materials for asbestos.

Colden conducted an extensive review of literature and scientific research on this topic.  Scientists including professional geologists, and directors of government and private laboratories were interviewed.  Colden facilitated collaboration among laboratories and major corporations.  Hundreds of samples were collected for clients.  Scientists from Colden had them analyzed using multiple methods and by multiple independent laboratories.  The potential health hazard associated with asbestos exposure was never disputed.  However, a strong case was made that although vermiculite is a problem matrix, techniques are available to compensate for challenges, and manage risks associated with analytical uncertainty.

After several meetings including representatives from Colden, major corporations, laboratories, the governor’s office, and DOH, the NYS Commissioner of Health agreed to allow laboratories to resume analyzing asbestos in vermiculite-containing building materials.  This was clarified in a July 9, 2013 letter from the DOH.  Analysis was permitted with the stipulation that laboratories include a disclaimer on reports.  The NYS DOH is developing new methods for asbestos in vermiculite with the goal of approving and publishing them later this year.

Since 1996, Colden Corporation professionals have been helping clients to create and maintain safe and healthy workplaces.  We collaborate with you to develop workplaces and practices that protect employees and the environment, while complying with regulatory mandates and guidelines.



Christopher J. Wesley, CIH

Phone: 215-496-9237