But even if your home isn't built on a tremolite vein (one common asbestos-containing mineral), concerns about asbestos contamination of vermiculite mines a few years ago had gardeners and horticulturalists up in arms. Vermiculite, of course, is the stuff put in potting mix to lighten it while helping retain water. Experienced gardeners know you can buy it by the bagful if you want to create your own potting mix. It's also mixed into fertilizers, and has dozens of commercial and industrial uses, from fireproofing to nuclear waste disposal.
So what's a gardener to do? If you use vermiculite, the EPA recommends these steps to reduce exposure to the dust:
- Use vermiculite outdoors or in a well-ventilated space (outdoors is best).
- Dampen vermiculite before using it to prevent dust from flying.
- Use purchased, moist potting mixes to reduce total vermiculite exposure.
- If using vermiculite outdoors, peel off outer layers of clothing before going inside, and wash them.
The National Cancer Institute has more recommendations for reducing cancer risk from asbestos.