Living on Earth dips into our mailbag to hear what listeners have to say about our stories.
CURWOOD: It's Living On Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Now it's time to hear from you, our listeners. Our recent report on the ongoing problems of asbestos contamination in Libby, Montana, prompted this e-mail from KPBS listener Michelle Jirik in San Diego. "Is asbestos a contaminant of all vermiculite?," she asks. "I am naturally concerned because this would mean my potting shed is full of asbestos dust, as are my potted plants both in and outdoors."
We turned to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for information about potential potting hazards. First, the good news: Not all vermiculite is contaminated. According to the EPA, some vermiculite used for soil mixture does contain a small amount of asbestos, but the risk to consumers is very low. Still, in order to keep exposure to a minimum, the EPA recommends gardeners buy pre-mixed potting soils, a combination of vermiculite and soil. The EPA also suggests that folks who mix vermiculite with soil on their own do so outdoors and keep the mixture damp. Damp soil means less dust, preventing gardeners from breathing in even trace amounts of asbestos.
Vermiculite has also been used in building insulation. If you're concerned about your own home, the EPA suggests calling in a contractor who can test a sample for asbestos contamination.
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