Awareness & Research

Asbestos Concrete in Water Systems a Cause for Concern

Oct 02, 2018
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October 2, 2018

Alexandra Der is the second-place winner of the Fall 2018 scholarship.

As an engineer pursuing my master’s degree in design of water and waste water systems, I encounter asbestos concrete (AC) on the daily basis.

Asbestos has been used in municipal water, waste water and storm water systems throughout the early to mid-1900s. These pipes were intended to last at least 60 years. However, cities now want to increase pipe capacities as well as pipe materials because these older pipes could crack, resulting in asbestos fibers possibly entering their water system.

Because these utilities are underground, officials wouldn’t discover a crack in the system until it is too late.

If asbestos fibers leaked into the water system, it would place residents in danger of exposure. Waste water often flows into rivers, lakes and oceans, and asbestos in that waste water would endanger wildlife, too.

Another problem is that asbestos concrete is brittle. If contractors try to remove the pipes, they could crumble, causing the toxic fibers to spread.

Asbestos concrete is removed only if there is no other location for a new pipe. If that’s the case, inspectors or contractors take soil samples and remove the asbestos concrete pipes following strict safety guidelines.

Asbestos Products Still Prevalent in U.S. Buildings

Asbestos fibers in our water supply increases the risk for people to develop an asbestos-related illness such as mesothelioma.

Although this is a rare form of cancer, it still affects thousands of people annually in the United States.

The primary types include pleural mesothelioma (the most common type), peritoneal mesothelioma, pericardial mesothelioma and testicular mesothelioma.

Many buildings, including homes, offices and schools, were built using asbestos. Although asbestos is not banned in the U.S., it is not used in newer construction. However, when asbestos products, such as asbestos tiles, in those buildings deteriorate or are damaged in renovations, they could pose a danger to people living and working in those buildings.

People still in the early stages of their development, such as school-age children, may be at a higher risk of ingesting asbestos fibers if those products become damaged at their schools.

Some workers, such as construction crews, may have carried asbestos dust on their clothes or hair, placing their family members and others at risk of asbestos exposure.

Secondhand exposure occurs when these workers transfer the fine fibers to others.

Striving for a Safe Tomorrow

I’ve had family members and friends who have suffered with a wide variety of cancers, including cancers of the stomach, brain, lung and pancreas.

While all these are different from mesothelioma, I still want to minimize the ways of developing any kind of cancer.

I believe we as a planet need to come together to ensure every human has the basics to live: Safe drinking water, proper sanitation, a roof over our heads, quality food and a school to attend.

And none of these will be safe if asbestos is included in the design.