Homeowner Checklist – Vermiculite Attic Insulation

Not all contractors use best practices and not all contractors follow the rules established by the DNR, EPA, and state agencies such as the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. In some cases contractors are ignorant to the rules, in some cases they are ignoring the rules, and in some cases they are knowingly breaking the rules. Regardless of the reason, both contractor and homeowner are liable for any health or environmental hazards that are created.

As homeowner, you are responsible for the method used when your vermiculite is being removed. While you may be able to take legal action against a contractor for endangering your safety or polluting your neighborhood, if the contractor is not properly insured and licensed it may not matter. Here is a short set of questions for both homeowners and contractors that are entering into contract for removal of vermiculite. See below for greater detail.

*** Homeowner Notice: All Contractors in Wisconsin Removing Vermiculite must:

  1. Be a licensed asbestos abatement company in Wisconsin
  2. Allow only trained and Wisconsin certified asbestos supervisors to perform the work
  3. Obtain a Special Waste Profile and disclose as vermiculite before disposing at a landfill
  4. Inform the Wisconsin DHS of location and dates of vermiculite removal work prior to removal
  5. Post a hazard notification in plain view at all times when the work is being performed
  6. All vacuum equipment used must be EPA compliant and all vacuum exhaust must pass through HEPA rated filters. Capturing vermiculite waste in a dumpster, or an attic vacuum bag that is resting in an enclosed or open trailer could contaminate the owner’s property, and likely the neighborhood. Homeowners are considered the “generator” of the vermiculite/asbestos and along with the contractor, are subject to all violations and fines.

In addition, vermiculite removal work is NOT covered by contractor liability insurance. Homeowners are strongly advised to obtain a valid certificate of insurance from their contractor showing proof that the contractor carries Pollution Liability Insurance. Claims resulting from damage to property, health, or environment during vermiculite removal are NOT covered by contractor liability insurance.

Testing Vermiculite for the Presence of Asbestos: The State of Wisconsin and the EPA have NOT approved a test to determine the presence of asbestos in vermiculite. Please click HERE to read the rule from the WI Department of Health Services.

The reason it is a waste of time and money for a home owner to test vermiculite is in part because there are likely many harmful fibers that are found in vermiculite that do not fall under the “asbestos” mineral category. As a result, any such tests results, even those reporting “less than 1% asbestos” or “none detected”, are deemed meaningless by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and EPA. It is for this reason that all vermiculite in residential properties in Wisconsin must be handled as if it contains asbestos, regardless of test results.

Below is a Q&A that addresses several of these issues in more detail.

My contractor tells me they can test the vermiculite and if it is found to be less than 1% asbestos that the vermiculite can be handled as regular waste. They are telling me they don’t have to be a licensed asbestos abatement company and they don’t have to follow the asbestos safety rules for my home?

Answer: Wrong. Please read the bulleting from the Wisconsin department of Health Services (DHS) that is featured above. DHS is the institution that oversses and regulates your residential property and it exists to protect you, your home, and a contractor’s employees. Most likely your contractor is confusing a rule about what happens when the waste arrives at the landfill. Landfills are overseen by the DNR and different rules apply at the landfill site. These rules do not apply to your home or yard.

If my contractor has liability insurance are they covered if they create a health hazard or pollute my home, yard, or neighborhood?

Answer: No. Contractor liability does not cover costs stemming from pollution incidents. Contractors that only carry contractor liability insurance would be dropped by their insurance provider if they new they were completing asbestos related work. In order to handle asbestos containing materials, or those materials the EPA has determined to be unreliable, a contractor must have pollution liability insurance if they wish to be covered. When in doubt, request a “Certificate of Insurance” from your prospective contractor and then call the insurance company and ask if the contractor is covered for asbestos related work.

What is pollution liability insurance?

Answer: Pollution liability insurance is insurance for remediation costs stemming from pollution incidents that are caused by a contractor’s work. Pollution liability insurance is very expensive and is only offered to companies with an excellent record of performance and claims history. All general contractor liability insurance include exclusions for asbestos related work, and such claims are not covered.

If a contractor is a “Certified Asbestos Company” does that mean they have pollution liability insurance and are following safe practices, including proper disposal?

Answer: No. In Wisconsin any company that pays a $400 licensing fee and employs at least one individual that has completed a 4 day asbestos training program will be listed as a certified asbestos company by the Wisconsin DHS (Department of Health Services). See below for information related to safe practices and legal disposal.

If a contractor is a “Certified Asbestos Company” does that mean they will follow safe practices as required by DHS, DNR, and EPA?

Answer: No guarantee. Contractors are expected to follow the required and advised best practices, but there is little regulation especially when these referenced agencies are not notified. For example, the Wisconsin DHS requires notification any time a contractor disturbs more than a typical garbage bag full of asbestos containing material. By all interpretations, this means DHS requires notification for anyone disturbing or removing vermiculite from an attic. This required prior notification allows DHS to show up unannounced and inspect all methods and worker certifications.

If a contractor is a “Certified Asbestos Company” does that mean they have a “Special Waste Profile” and will properly dispose of the vermiculite they remove from my attic?

Answer: No guarantee. Contractors are required to inform landfills that the material they are dumping is vermiculite. Upon disclosure the landfill will require what is a called a “Special Waste Profile” and they will charge a much higher rate for dumping materials such as vermiculite and asbestos. As the “generator” of the waste material, the home owner is actually responsible for making sure the waste is disposed of properly. If a landfill determines that vermiculite was dumped improperly without the landfill’s knowledge, the contractor and homeowner will be liable for cleanup and fines from the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) that oversees landfill operations.