Since Heather is out with some friends, I’m watching my version of reality TV–documentary film. Imagine my surprise when scrolling through the premium channels and coming across Dust to Dust, a documentary released in 2002-03. This film deals with the residents of Libby, Montana and how asbestos has destroyed their lives. It deals with the W.R. Grace & Company and their vermiculite mine which supplied millions of homes throughout the U.S. and Canada with Zonolite, an insulation made from vermiculite. Vermiculite itself isn’t bad, but the mine in Libby was found to have naturally occurring asbestos.
In the film, people with children are told to not let their kids play near anything that came from the mine. People talk about working for years in the mine and losing spouses and family membes and neighbors. It’s some heavy stuff, and makes me wonder what it will cost to have our vermiculite abated.
Seeing the faces of those who have been affected by asbestosis is devastating. I know there are other, greater tragedies in the world, but in the film, the arrogance of W.R. Grace and their intentional omission of warning labels on their products and not informing employees when they knew that the mine and their product contained a deadly substance is staggering. The company has reformed, reorganized and is currently in Chapter 11. In Libby, it is known that 200 people have died from asbestos poisoning, with as many as 2,000 more with lung abnormalities. Many people had already died before W.R. Grace admitted that there was asbestos present in the vermiculite so the real number is hard to know. Their trucks would drive from the mine through town untarped and vermiculite could be found everywhere.
I’m glad that someone has made a documentary, but the story no one is covering is just how much vermiculite is in the attics of the world? How much of it contains asbestos? How great is the risk to the general populace? If you own an older home, what is your recourse?
Our home inspector informed us of the EPA party line, which is, don’t disturb it and told us we’d probably want to put another layer of fiberglass insulation over the layer we already had; not for protection from the vermiculite, but to make the house warmer in the winter.
After watching this film, any other renovations we do involving our attic will mean we remove the vermiculite by paying an expert and vacating the premises during the abating process. There’s no way I’d ever expose Leta to the dust, just to be safe. Frankly, I’m more worried about lead in the paint than anything else. That’s one reason we primed the shit out of our walls when we moved in.
In the film, they show dust tests and I never stirred up the vermiculite to the degree that a mine would or even close to the dust test, which makes me feel better. Plus, I wore a major respirator. The point is made by experts in the film that when it’s undisturbed, it can test negative for asbestos, and then when it’s stirred up carelessly show very high levels of asbestos.
Dust to Dust is a pretty good documentary, but it gave me renovation flashbacks.