We all know that asbestos is a dangerous contaminant, so discovering asbestos in your drinking water can be alarming.
In this guide, we’ve shared everything you need to know about asbestos in water, including how it gets there, its potential health effects, and how to test for this contaminant.
📌 Key Takeaways:
- Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral with flexible fibers that was used widely in thermal insulation products.
- Wind, surface runoff, and flooding may cause natural deposits of asbestos to enter a water supply, and asbestos cement water mains may also leach asbestos into water.
- Asbestos has known carcinogenic effects and has been found in studies to cause cancer of various organs.
Table of Contents
- ❔ What Is Asbestos In Water?
- 🚰 How Does Asbestos Get Into Water?
- 🔎 How To Know If Your Water Contains Asbestos
- 🚱 Is Asbestos In Drinking Water Dangerous?
- 📉 Is Asbestos In Tap Water Regulated?
- 🧪 How To Test For Asbestos In Tap Water
- 👩🏽⚕️ What To Do If You’re Concerned About Asbestos In Your Water
- ⚠️ Other Ways You Might Be Exposed To Asbestos
- 📑 Final Word: Removing Asbestos From Water
❔ What Is Asbestos In Water?
Asbestos is a fibrous mineral that occurs naturally in the earth. Many people assume that asbestos is manmade, but it’s not – it’s just used in a lot of manufacturing processes. Russia and China are the main areas of asbestos mining today.
Once asbestos is mined, it’s crushed and milled, then delivered to manufacturing facilities all over the world to produce various materials containing asbestos fibers.
There are six known types of asbestos that exist today. These include chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos), amosite asbestos (brown asbestos), crocidolite asbestos (blue asbestos), tremolite asbestos, actinolite asbestos and anthophyllite asbestos.
Originally, asbestos was popular because of its flexibility, conductivity, high strength, and low thermal conductivity.
Some of the common uses of asbestos were:
- Roofing materials
- Fire blankets
- Safety clothing
- Wall cladding
- Ceiling tiles
- Pipe insulation
- Composite flooring
- Talcum powder
- Spray coating
- Asbestos cement products
- Insulation products
- Other building materials
However, asbestos has since been phased out of use in many regions because of evidence of its dangerous health effects – although that doesn’t mean that asbestos is now no longer used or no longer exists at all.
🚰 How Does Asbestos Get Into Water?
There are a few different ways that asbestos may enter drinking water supplies:
Remember, asbestos is found naturally in the ground. So, earthquakes, landslides, floods, and other natural disasters could disturb these naturally occurring deposits and cause them to contaminate drinking water sources.
Flood water, rain, and wind could carry asbestos fibers from natural sources into surface water that supplies a municipal water system. Natural disasters might also cause asbestos to enter groundwater (underground) water supplies, so test your water when necessary if you own a private well.
Before we were aware of its dangers, asbestos was used to make some underground water pipes. The use of asbestos cement water pipes was phased out in the 1980s, but many old pipes containing asbestos still remain. An estimated 12% to 15% of drinking water systems in the US use asbestos pipes.
These pipes become more prone to corrosion as they age, and it’s possible for asbestos fibers to leach from the pipe materials into public water supplies. Natural disasters and weather conditions may increase the likelihood of water contamination from asbestos cement pipes.
Asbestos waste piles and debris from building work or demolition could also disrupt and displace asbestos fibers. Airborne asbestos (asbestos dust) is particularly likely in areas where this work is being carried out. Asbestos present in the atmosphere could eventually end up contaminating community water supplies.
Transporting debris containing asbestos and disposing of it improperly could also result in contaminated water supplies in the local area.
🔎 How To Know If Your Water Contains Asbestos
Asbestos particles are often too small to be seen in water, and they don’t have a taste or smell. So, you won’t be able to tell whether or not your water contains asbestos by looking at it or drinking it.
There are a few ways to get an idea of your water’s potential asbestos content:
Check Your Water Quality Report
If asbestos is present in your source water, your water utility should use a water treatment method to remove or greatly reduce this contaminant.
However, trace levels of asbestos might still be detected in your treated drinking water, and if so, this should be documented in your Water Quality Report.
All water treatment plants produce annual Water Quality Reports, or Consumer Confidence Reports, which list important information about their drinking water supplies, including all the contaminants detected with testing.
You can search online to view your utility’s most recent Report.
Assess Your Home’s Plumbing System
As we mentioned above, a Water Quality Report doesn’t account for the asbestos that may enter your water supply in the pipes leading to your home – or in the pipes inside your home.
You can’t know for certain what your municipal water system contains, but you can check your own plumbing system for signs of asbestos. You only need to do this if your home was built before 1980.
Asbestos is mostly found in heating systems, so look there first. Look for damaged areas of the pipe. If you look closely, you should see the asbestos fibers within the cement.
Test Your Water
Testing a sample of your water is the only way to know for sure exactly how much asbestos your water supply contains.
We’ve shared more on how to test your water for asbestos later in this guide.
🚱 Is Asbestos In Drinking Water Dangerous?
Yes, asbestos in drinking water is dangerous because there are numerous asbestos-related diseases, many of them life-threatening, that are caused by asbestos exposure.
Studies into the effects of asbestos in drinking water are so far limited, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that there is currently no conclusive or consistent evidence to suggest that asbestos in drinking water has definite health hazards.
At the moment, we know more about the effects of asbestos inhalation, which include:
- Asbestosis – a chronic lung disease characterized by lung tissue scarring and shortness of breath
- Mesothelioma – a type of cancer that develops on the outer lining of some of the body’s organs
- Lung cancer
- Cancers of the digestive system
A recent study found that there was a potential link between asbestos in drinking water and cancer of the gastrointestinal tract, as well as colorectal cancer. When ingested in drinking water, asbestos may also cause an increased risk of developing benign intestinal polyps.
Asbestos Nation estimates that 12,000 to 15,000 Americans die every year from diseases and health complications associated with asbestos exposure.
📉 Is Asbestos In Tap Water Regulated?
Asbestos is regulated in tap water, meaning that water suppliers must legally take action to test their water for asbestos and remove it to below the maximum concentration allowed.
Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 7 million fibers (>10 micron in length) per liter (MFL) for asbestos.
So, a public water supply should contain less than 7 MFL of asbestos. The EPA believes that drinking low levels of asbestos below the MCL is safe and shouldn’t have health risks.
However, some organizations believe that the EPA’s legal level for asbestos is too high, and that asbestos in drinking water might have possible health risks even at trace levels.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has set its own non-enforceable Health Guideline of 0 MFL for asbestos in tap water, meaning that no amount of asbestos is considered safe to drink.
🧪 How To Test For Asbestos In Tap Water
We recommend testing your water for asbestos if you’re specifically concerned about asbestos contamination, you have reason to believe that your water might contain this toxin, or you’re concerned about nearby industrial contamination.
Asbestos can be difficult to detect with a standard water test and requires advanced testing. The best way to test for this contaminant in public water systems is with advanced laboratory testing.
To test for asbestos with a lab test at home, follow these steps:
- Buy a test from a certified laboratory online. The cost of an asbestos water test is around $160-$220.
- Take a water sample. Use the equipment provided to take one or several water samples, following the test’s instructions.
- Send your sample for testing. Mail the sample back to the laboratory and wait for your results to be delivered.
- Read your results. The test data should tell you exactly how much asbestos was detected, and whether this exceeds legal limits.
👩🏽⚕️ What To Do If You’re Concerned About Asbestos In Your Water
If you’ve discovered asbestos in your water, here’s what you should do:
- If you get your water from a municipal supplier and the asbestos concentration is below the legal limit, you will need to take your own steps to remove asbestos from your water at home.
- If asbestos levels are detected higher than the legal limit, send a copy of the test results to your water utility and ask what they’re doing to reduce this contaminant to safe levels in your water supply.
- Private well owners are responsible for testing and treating their water supplies. If high levels of asbestos are detected in your well, hire a contractor to inspect your well, and install a water filter that can remove asbestos from your drinking water.
- Make sure you’re also avoiding other causes of asbestos exposure (listed below), especially if your house is old.
⚠️ Other Ways You Might Be Exposed To Asbestos
Aside from your drinking water, you might also be exposed to asbestos from the following sources:
- In building materials – Old roofing and ceiling tiles, textured paints, some floor tiles, and wall cladding might all increase your asbestos exposure risk at home.
- Certain occupations – People working in manufacturing facilities that use asbestos, shipbuilding trades, and asbestos mining and milling facilities, are more likely to be exposed to asbestos.
- Home renovations – You may be at risk of being exposed to asbestos when renovating an old home, especially if you’re dealing with old insulation, vinyl floor tiles, and popcorn ceilings.
📑 Final Word: Removing Asbestos From Water
We don’t blame you if you’re determined not to drink even traces of asbestos in your water.
Luckily, there are plenty of methods of at-home asbestos removal. A suitable water filtration system can greatly reduce your water’s asbestos concentration to as close to 0 as possible.
Make sure to do your research and, ideally, choose a filter that has third-party testing that proves its asbestos removal abilities.