Asbestos cement pipes deliver nearly a quarter of the drinking water in Kelowna

Asbestos in water pipes

In the late 2010's it was lead, now it's asbestos.

And, while there are no lead-lined pipes delivering drinking water to Kelowna taps, the same can't be said for asbestos.

Up until about 1970, most pipes installed to deliver drinking water to homes in the city were made from asbestos concrete.

Many of those pipes are still in use today.

Rod MacLean, Kelowna's utility planning manager confirms about 147 kilometres of asbestos cement pipes are still delivering drinking water to Kelowna taps. That works out to about 23 per cent of the city's drinking water distribution system.

Another 50 kilometres of pipe are carrying non potable water to farms and orchards.

In all, MacLean says asbestos concrete pipes make up about 28 to 30 per cent of the city's water delivery system.

The issue of asbestos concrete pipes came to light through a recent investigative report on CTV's W5 which surveyed 100 communities across Canada.

The survey found 90 per cent of those responding, including Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops, had a significant amount of its drinking water flowing through asbestos cement pipes.

"Most of the pipe was installed between 1940 and 1970. They stopped putting it in when PVC became less costly," said MacLean.

"AC pipe is a structural pipe. It's fibre reinforced pipe. They use it today, just not with asbestos."

While it's known inhaling asbestos dust can cause cancer, there is yet no concrete evidence ingesting small amounts of asbestos which may flow through the system and into your home is harmful.

A guidelines for drinking water document produced by the World Health Organization in 2021 stated there was no "consistent evidence that ingesting asbestos is hazardous to health."

It says available data was inadequate to permit derivation of health-based guideline value.

"Although asbestos is a known human carcinogen by the inhalation route, findings from epidemiological studies that evaluated the correlation between asbestos exposure via drinking-water and incidence of cancers of the stomach and gastrointestinal tract have been inconsistent, with some studies suggesting a weak positive correlation and others finding no evidence of a correlation," the document concluded.

"However, in extensive studies in experimental animal species, asbestos has not consistently increased the incidence of tumours of the gastrointestinal tract.

"Thus, the overall weight of evidence from epidemiological and animal studies does not support the hypothesis that oral exposure to asbestos in drinking-water is associated with an increased risk of developing cancer."

Asbestos is one of 78 elements the city looks at with the Canadian Drinking Water Quality guideline according to MacLean who says the city continues to work with health authorities to ensure our drinking water is the best drinking water we can have.

"In terms of the pipe itself, it's been looked at over the last 50 years. We don't ignore the issue.

"At this time we have never been too concerned about it because it is a lower risk item. There are other elements in the system that we prevent and make sure we manage."

MacLean says the asbestos cement pipes probably have another 30 or 40 years of life left in them.

He says they manage the system and look at the quality of the pipe through condition assessment.

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