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Key takeaways: About 18% of the U.S. and Canada’s pipes are asbestos cement pipes. Although
the risk of asbestos exposure is marginal for those with AC pipes, the risk still stands, especially
as these pipes are susceptible to degradation after a few decades.

Danger, Asbestos


Why Was Asbestos Used in Pipes?


The asbestos cement (AC) pipe, or the transite pipe, was initially developed in Italy at the turn of
the twentieth century. It was introduced in the United States in 1929 and was utilized for decades
following. Asbestos is notorious for its ability to insulate well, its fireproofing qualities, and its
relatively sturdy nature. Besides comprising the pipes themselves, asbestos was used to insulate
pipes
and constituted the valves and gaskets.

The practice of installing asbestos cement pipes decreased after the strict regulations of asbestos
production and implementation in the late 1970s. Despite the barring of new AC pipes to be
installed, the extant pipes were not replaced. The problem wasn’t completely addressed–just
prevented from becoming worse.


Approximately 18% of all water pipes in the United States and Canada are AC pipes. AC pipes
contain about 20% asbestos, which is a significant amount (in terms of exposure hazards). While
the World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t deem these a major “risk,” i.e., that asbestos
breaking away from AC pipes doesn’t pose a risk to human health (as opposed to asbestos in
schools
or construction sites). A number of epidemiological studies and longitudinal studies have
come forward with conflicting findings: some say that asbestos in drinking water is expelled in
feces; others say that places with AC pipes see higher instances of colon cancer among other
cancers.

Lifespan of Asbestos Cement Pipes


AC pipes begin degrading after 50-70 years of use. When the pipes inevitably degrade, scientists
believe that asbestos fibers become dislodged from the pipes. Some experts argue against the
WHO’s assertion that AC pipes do not pose significant risks, as the degradation of AC pipes lead
to asbestos contamination. And, because of the possibility of asbestos exposure, AC pipes are
dangerous.


The Safe Drinking Water Act, passed by Congress in 1974, asserts that the safe contamination
level of tap water is 7 million fibers (of asbestos) per liter. Importantly, most of the asbestos
fibers that AC pipes inadvertently release are exceptionally small; they’re small enough to be
excreted by the body. Still, some experts still assert that any exposure to asbestos is dangerous
and should be avoided if possible.

Implications of AC Degradation


Because of the aforementioned degradation time of AC pipes, most of the previously installed
pipes will either require maintenance or complete replacement within the coming decade. It’s
important to understand the safety precautions associated with working on these pipes, as well as
their carcinogenic, or cancer-causing, qualities.
Ideally, these AC pipes will be completely replaced within the coming decades. Asbestos
exposure and its associated risks will be mitigated even further.

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, please call The Halpern Law
Firm at (800)-505-6000. We are here to help you navigate the legal process of filing a claim
to receive compensation for your cancer diagnosis. We help mesothelioma victims and their
families in Pennsylvania.

Sources:
A critical review of asbestos concentrations in water and air, according to exposure sources:
Heliyon. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2024, from
https://www.cell.com/heliyon/fulltext/S2405-8440(23)02937-7?_returnURL=https%3A
%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS2405844023029377%3Fsho
wall%3Dtrue

Asbestos in drinking water: What does it mean for human health? (n.d.). Retrieved January
29, 2024, from
https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20240124-asbestos-in-drinking-water-an-overlooke
d-health-risk


Asbestos in Water and Asbestos Cement Water Pipes. (2017, January 18). Safe Drinking
Water Foundation.
https://www.safewater.org/fact-sheets-1/2017/1/18/asbestos-in-water-and-asbestos-cem
ent-water-pipes


Written By Carina Filemyr

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Page Reviewed and Edited by
Dave Halpern, Mesothelioma Attorney

Dave Halpern is a Pennsylvania and New Jersey mesothelioma attorney with over 30 years of experience. He has investigated hundreds of cases and won numerous multimillion dollar settlements and verdicts for asbestos victims. Dave prides himself on working tirelessly to help his clients in their time of need. 

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