Asbestos minerals tend to separate into microscopic particles that become airborne and are easily inhaled. People exposed to asbestos in the workplace have developed several types of life-threatening diseases, including lung cancer. Workers in and around the Libby mine developed serious health problems.
Like any hazards, length and intensity of exposure are major factors in the risk of asbestos-related respiratory illness. To assess the risk of asbestos exposure at a house, a sample of the vermiculite would need to be analyzed by a lab. Since most of the vermiculite used in Canada was taken from the Libby mine, the odds are quite good that there is asbestos in the vermiculite in Canadian attics.
The good news is that we don’t live in our attics. In addition, as long as it is undisturbed, neither the asbestos fibers bound up in the vermiculite chunks nor the dust will be released into the air. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the U.S., “Most people who get asbestos-related diseases have been exposed to high levels of asbestos for a long time.” Lastly, most of the time the air in your house flows from the house into the attic, rather than into the house from the attic.
The bottom line is, like most household products that may contain asbestos, and there are many, doing nothing is often the best approach. Naturally, the risk of exposure increases with the amount of time spent in the attic.