Asbestos in Water??
Asbestos is largely viewed as a concern when airborne fibers are inhaled. Studies have shown most mesothelioma cases and other asbestos-related diseases are largely caused by inhalation of the toxic fibers.
Drinking water is contaminated by asbestos fibers from pollution, geologic erosion, and the disintegration of asbestos cement pipe. Officials are also concerned that asbestos could run into streams, rivers, and eventually the drinking water supply.
Waterborne-asbestos fiber data must to be resolved with the use of a scanning electron microscope. However, there are problems in resolving the very thin, small chrysotile fibrils, which results in a shortage of data. The size makes it difficult to use the scanning electron microscope in routine water analysis. The fibers in drinking water consist almost entirely of short fibers, which are considered to contribute little or no risk to public health.
Though ingestion may be a rarer cause compared to inhaled airborne fibers, residents in Texas and California have become more concerned with this possibility after experiencing asbestos-contaminated drinking water. Early this year, residents in two small Texas towns faced the disturbing possibility of drinking water containing more asbestos fibers than allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency had seeped into their water supply.
Asbestos, lead, and many other dangerous contaminants are a problem in public water supplies around the world. As our infrastructure ages and pipes corrode; they release asbestos fibers into the same water that flows straight to your kitchen faucet, your coffee cup, and your child’s water glass.
Several laboratories have been analyzing for asbestos in drinking water in various cities of the United States. A review of the results of over 1500 water samples analyzed for asbestos by electron microscopy suggests that several populations of U.S. water consumers have been exposed to significant numbers of asbestos fibers in their drinking water at some time.
One sample of water from a distribution system in South Carolina collected after a length of asbestos cement pipe which had been attacked by corrosive water contained over 500 x 106 chrysotile fibers/l. Drinking water in other asbestos cement pipe distribution systems in Florida, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania have been shown to contain concentrations of chrysotile asbestos over 10 x 106 fibers/I.
Asbestos cement pipes have been widely used for drinking water distribution and there are many kilometers to be found all over the world. Although few countries still install asbestos cement pipe, primarily because of issues with handling, there appears to be no concern for the health of consumers receiving the water and no programs to specifically replace asbestos cement pipe for this reason.
There is potential for exposure to asbestos fibers in drinking water by inhalation of aerosol droplets or from fibers that are trapped on clothing during washing and which are subsequently released into the atmosphere. This has been studied and except in an extreme case, there was no measurable increase in the number of fibers in the indoor atmosphere of houses. However, it should remain a concern to all when asbestos is present in our daily lives.
How to Stay Safe
The easiest way to help keep your water safe from any contaminants, like asbestos, is to use some type of water filtration. This can be as simple as models that go directly on your faucets or water pitchers that filter out impurities. Some may also invest in more expensive options, like a system for the whole house or under-the-sink models. It’s important to pay attention to what contaminants each filters out when deciding what option might be best for your home, as not all water filters or systems remove the same impurities.
Overall, the best way to stay safe from asbestos and other toxins in our drinking water, buildings we frequent, and products are to stay educated on where they can be commonly found and any environmental issues in your local communities. We can all support and protect our loved ones from mesothelioma or another deadly diagnosis by being better informed and raising awareness. Knowledge is crucial for prevention.