Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral fibre that was popular in building and construction due to its strength, flexibility, wide usage, lightweight, affordability and waterproof nature. However once asbestos is worn or broken, fibres can be released into the air. These fibres can be inhaled causing chronic respiratory issues like lung cancer and in some cases these lead to a premature death. But what about ingesting asbestos? Believe it or not asbestos was a common material used in water pipes up until the mid 1980’s within Australia and many pipelines are made of a combination of the material mixed with cement. But the question is what’s the risk?
Asbestos is a known carcinogen by the inhalation route, when inhaled into the lungs asbestos causes chronic respiratory issues including lung cancer, asbestosis and malignant mesothelioma. Studies show the most dangerous asbestos type for humans to inhale is Crocidolite which comes in naturally-formed bundles that are sharp, long and straight. It is hard and brittle and can break easily, when broken it releases dangerous needle-like fibers that can very easily be inhaled causing major damage to the lungs.
So what would happen if you consumed Crocidolite? Well first the Crocidolite/asbestos would have to break and the fibres would have to be released into the water that we consume. Surprisingly despite numerous studies and research there is no evidence that suggests that these fibres cause any harm when diluted with water and ingested by humans.
There are multiple stages that water goes through before it comes out of your tap, it is sourced from clean revenues, filtered through multiple systems, fluoride for healthy teeth is added as is a small amount of chlorine to insure full cleanliness and it goes through multiple levels of testing at each stage of its journey to ensure its safe for you to drink. Each pipe used also can remain usable for of 50-150 years depending on usages and environmental conditions according to a 2013 study.
Even after all these studies however Australia is still looking to renew its water system to ensure the best water for its over 24 million population, using professional testing, Asbestos testing Melbourne and removal experts, Asbestos Removal Melbourne, they are ensuring that in the future asbestos in water will be a thing of the past. The most danger that comes from asbestos piping is removal, best done by experts who know how to properly handle the volatile fibres and with the correct knowledge on how to dispose of it. In 2014, Queensland Urban Utilities set to replacing 13km of asbestos cement piping which was laid before 1954, the piping will be removed by professionals over the course of 8 months. Studies have shown that in the next decade alone replacing out of date asbestos piping could cost over 8 billion dollars while replacing all asbestos piping could cost upwards of 15 billion dollars. In Western Australia alone, an Auditor-General’s report stated that about 31% of the states water corporation pipes and mains contained asbestos related material, mostly mixed in with the cement.
So in conclusion, the problem of asbestos in water piping will take many decades and an astronomical amount of money to fix, but in the meantime you can feel safe in the knowledge that there is no scientific evidence that consuming asbestos laced water is damaging to the human body in any way.