Asbestos in Potting Mixtures

Summary

Asbestos-containing products are often thought of in the construction or industrial industries, so it may come as a surprise that it can also be found amongst day-to-day items. Potting soil is a seemingly safe product, though it can sometimes be mixed with vermiculite–a natural material mined from the ground that can contain particles of asbestos. Once asbestos is inhaled, it can become detrimental to health and cause life-threatening diseases such as mesothelioma.

Asbestos in Potting Mixtures Explained

Most people consider gardening a safe activity, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that some potting soil mixtures are contaminated with vermiculite, which is often mixed with soil for its ability to hold water and fertilizer for longer periods of time than soil alone.

Potting soil contaminates:

  • Vermiculite: A mined substance produced from ore. It does not directly contain asbestos, but it is often extracted in the vicinity of asbestos deposits and can carry the needle-like asbestos fibers.
  • Asbestos: A natural chemical of the vermiculite ore, poses serious health risks when airborne. The long thin fibers are resistant to heat and fire and used as insulation in a variety of industries.

Libby Mine in Montana closed in the 1980s following the discovery of asbestos fibers in vermiculite. Modern forms of vermiculite are unlikely to contain asbestos and pose less of a risk to those using potting mixtures.

Who Was Exposed to Asbestos in Potting Mixtures?

The EPA studied 38 vermiculite products around the U.S. and found that five of them could expose people to asbestos, and 17 others contained traces of asbestos. Vermiculite mixed with asbestos was a way of increasing the density of the soil and allowing it to hold water.
You can buy bags of ready-made vermiculite-mixed soil as it is such a commonly approved material to use. However, the EPA also ruled that the levels of asbestos in these products were so low that they did not pose a severe health risk to consumers.

Asbestos Exposure Through Vermiculite

Any product that contains less than 1% asbestos is considered safe; yet they also warned that the danger could rise for those who work with vermiculite in industries other than gardening, as they would be more exposed. This would include those who mixed the potting soil and vermiculite in factories, and perhaps their family members who may be exposed via leftover dust carried into the house on clothing, shoes and hair.

Risks of Vermiculite to Gardeners

Gardeners who mix their own soil and vermiculite mixture are more at risk than those who buy it pre-made. The raw material of vermiculite contains more dust and can become airborne when being physically mixed into the soil. Pre-made bags of soil produce less dust, and are less dangerous.

An alternative to use in soil to mimic the qualities of vermiculite would be peat, sawdust or bark, which are all excellent water retainers. If gardeners wish to mix their own vermiculite with soil, it should be in a well-ventilated area or outdoors, while wearing a face mask to reduce the inhalation of dust.

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Health Risks of Asbestos in Potting Mixtures

Asbestos was used as an insulative material until the 1980s and consists of tiny, needle-like fibers that, when inhaled, can become attached to the lining of the heart, lungs and abdomen. Over time, this causes tumors to grow, which ultimately lead to health complications. This is known as mesothelioma, a rare and complicated disease that can take up to 50 years to develop.

The rarity of the disease means that few doctors will come across a case of mesothelioma in their careers, making it harder to diagnose and treat. Clinical studies continue throughout the world with the aim of finding a cure for mesothelioma, but as of yet, there is none.

Seeking Justice For Mesothelioma Due To Asbestos Exposure

Those who have been diagnosed with mesothelioma after coming into contact with asbestos through potting mixtures may be eligible for compensation. The dangers of asbestos were known by mining companies and manufacturers long before it became public knowledge, so a prognosis may be due to your employer’s negligence.

For the best results, contact a lawyer who specializes in mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases to ensure you receive the best outcome. Compensation can help pay towards medical costs and loss of earnings.

If you require support, please contact our Justice Support team, call (888)360-4215 or request our FREE Mesothelioma Justice Guide.

View Author and Sources
Sources
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    Accessed: 17th August 2018
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    Retrieved from:https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/NEWS/vermiculite051603.pdf
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Last modified: August 31, 2018