Fact Sheet: Asbestos


Brief Overview:
Contaminant: Asbestos
Category: Inorganic
Source: Asbestos cement in water systems
Effect: Cancer
Treatment: Filtration, corrosion control

Asbestos ocurrs naturally in some areas. The majority of the exposure to asbestos is thought to be from the corrosion of asbestos-concrete pipes. The majority of the concern is therefore in public water systems with asbestos-concrete pipes. This type of piping is not expected to be found inside homes or in private well systems.

Asbestos fibers may be released from natural sources such as erosion of asbestos-containing ores, but the primary source is through the wear or breakdown of asbestos-containing materials, particularly from the wastewaters of mining and other industries, and by the use of asbestos cement pipes in water supply systems.

From 1987 to 1993, according to the Toxics Release Inventory, asbestos releases to water and land totaled nearly 9 million lbs. These releases were primarily from asbestos products industries which use asbestos in roofing materials, friction materials, and cement. The largest releases occurred in Pennsylvania and Louisiana.

What happens to Asbestos when it is released to the environment? As a naturally occurring substance, asbestos can be present in surface and ground water. Small fibers may be carried long distances by water currents before settling. Asbestos fibers do not bind to soils, but nevertheless do not migrate to ground water through soils. Asbestos is not expected to accumulate in aquatic life.

Inhalation of asbestos has been linked to lung cancer and other respiratory problems. Consumption of drinking water may lead to other forms of cancer.
Short-term: Asbestos is not known to cause any health problems when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time.
Long-term: Asbestos has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: lung disease; cancer.

Verify that the test was performed by approved methods.
Method Number – Transmission Electron Microscopy EPA 800/4-83-043
The testing is usually a few hundred dollars when done by approved methods. Other methods may not be reliable.

Treatment at the point of use can be performed by filtration of the water. Filters with an absolute pore size of 0.45 microns or lower are usually better than standard paper filters. Reverse osmosis is also effective.
When the source of the asbestos is asbestos-concrete pipe, corrosion control is usually the best means of controlling asbestos.
Coagulation/Filtration, Direct and Diatomite Filtration, Corrosion Control.