Many of us are aware of the dangers of asbestos in our homes, but this chemical can also be found in private or public drinking water supplies. So, should you be concerned about asbestos in your drinking water? 

The Asbestos Basics: 

Asbestos occurs in natural deposits and is a fibrous mineral. These fibers are resistant to most chemicals and heat, so asbestos was a popular material for brake pads, roofing materials, and the cement pipes used in older water distribution systems.

When the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed by Congress in 1974, the EPA was tasked with determining the safe levels of chemicals found in drinking water that may or can cause health problems. The EPA sets a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal for each contaminant based on the possible exposure and health risks. The asbestos MCGL is set at 7 million fibers per liter and based on this, an enforceable Maximum Contaminant Level at the same level. This is calculated considering the ability to detect and remove contaminants by public water systems using suitable technologies and treatments. The MCL is the lowest possible level to remove this contaminant if it should occur in water supplies.  

How Asbestos Is Released into the Environment: 

Asbestos fibers can be released from a natural source, such as asbestos containing ores being eroded, but the primary sources are from human activities including the breakdown or wear of asbestos containing materials. According to Toxics Release Inventory data, between 1987 and 1993, asbestos releases to land and water was almost 9 million pounds. This was attributed to asbestos in friction materials, cement, and roofing materials. Asbestos fibers can be carried by water currents before they settle. These fibers do not bind to soil particles, but can still migrate to contaminate water supplies.  

The Health Implications of Asbestos Exposure: 

There are no known health issues associated with short term asbestos exposure above the MCL. Unfortunately, long term exposure can have some serious health consequences including increased risk of developing cancer and lung diseases.  

Addressing the Problem: 

The asbestos regulations came into effect in 1992 and 1993 to 1995, the EPA required water suppliers to collect and analyze water samples to check for asbestos levels above 7 M.L. When levels are shown to be consistently in excess of the MCL, the supplier must take active measures to reduce asbestos levels. These measures include direct and diatomite filters, coagulation filtration, and corrosion control.

If the asbestos levels in your water supply exceed the EPA’s MCL, your utility company must notify consumers using tv, radio, newspapers, and other appropriate means. They may also be required to take additional steps such as a provision of alternative drinking water supplies to prevent serious risk to public health.  

If you have concerns about asbestos or other contaminants in your water supply, you should speak to a fully WQA certified water treatment specialist. An experienced professional can guide you through the treatment options that meet the industry standards and will provide you with an additional level of protection.

With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative. Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices. EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state.