Can Asbestos Contaminate Water?

Asbestos in the Water Supply

Asbestos is a fibrous silicate mineral that not only occurs naturally but can also be present in man-made structures—especially anything built before the 1980s. In the 1970s and 1980s researchers started finding the harmful effects of prolonged asbestos exposure, resulting in mesothelioma or lung cancer.

In fact, asbestos is called a silent killer because it can take years for health issues to develop as a result of unhealthy exposure levels. This hazardous material was regularly used in many construction materials for its structural benefits prior to the 1980s.

The early use of asbestos affected not only builders but also the individuals who used those structures and finished buildings for years to come. Although it’s more known to be airborne, asbestos can also contaminate water sources.

How Asbestos Gets into Water

For many years, asbestos has been used in building materials for municipal water, wastewater and stormwater systems—leading much of the U.S. population to consume asbestos. However, these levels are low enough to not cause adverse health effects.

But asbestos concentrations can reach a concerning level if the waterway infrastructure starts to break down and anyone who uses those water sources can be at risk. With the average lifespan of asbestos-containing pipelines being about 70 years, dangerous contamination is certainly possible.

As the asbestos fibers enter the waterways, they don’t dissolve and continue moving through the systems.

Other Ways Asbestos Makes its Way into Water

Asbestos can penetrate water supplies in ways other than through older piping materials. Prior to the 1980s, several types of construction materials regularly had asbestos in them including:

  • Siding shingles
  • Insulation
  • Textured paint and patching
  • Artificial ashes and embers used in fireplaces
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • Vinyl sheet flooring
  • Stovetop pads
  • Walls and floors around woodburning stoves
  • Hot water and steam pipes
  • Oil and coal furnaces

When these materials break down over time, are damaged through demolition or ravaged by natural disasters, the asbestos fibers can enter the air and eventually settle in waterways or soil.

Once they enter a waterway, they can make their way into the population’s water supply. But when asbestos lands it can permeate the soil and also seep into waterways.

Risks of Ingesting Asbestos-Contaminated Water

While health effects related to inhaling asbestos fibers is well known, issues from ingesting asbestos are not as clear. According to the CDC, some people exposed to asbestos fibers in their drinking water have above-average death rates from cancer of the esophagus, stomach and intestines.

However, it is hard to discern whether or not this was caused solely by asbestos exposure. And when animals ingested asbestos, they did not get more fatal cancers, they had extra nonfatal tumors in their intestines.

It may not be as apparent, or well-known yet, but the health risks are possible as it’s still a hazardous material entering the body.

Testing for Asbestos to Help Prevent Dangerous Exposures

Finding asbestos in your water supply may not be as alarming at first, especially since it can occur naturally at lower concentration levels. But if found in higher concentrations, it’s not wise to continue ingesting the contaminated water.

Testing for asbestos in your buildings or waterways can help prevent hazardous exposures and curb any long-term health effects. Using a trusted asbestos testing lab can be the difference in keeping everyone safe or subjecting yourself and others to unnecessary risks.

Environmental Hazards Services offers asbestos testing to help you discover it and prevent adverse health issues.

Contact us today and set up testing for projects of any size, scope or complexity.