Half of Regina’s water mains are made with asbestos-cement. The city does not, however, check asbestos levels in its drinking water.
“We regularly check the quality of our drinking water to ensure that it is safe,” said Sandy Bailey, manager of Water and Sewer Engineering. “We don’t test for asbestos in the water, it is not a regulated substance in Canada and the World Health Organization, as well as the Saskatchewan Ministry of the Environment and Health Canada, have said that it is not a health concern when ingested.
“Our drinking water is safe and there is nothing to be alarmed about,” she added. Canadian guidelines currently dictate that although asbestos is a proven and deadly carcinogen when inhaled, it does not have the same effect when ingested.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates levels of asbestos in its water supply. This came after a study by the EPA found that there might be repercussions to ingesting asbestos.
“There has been some talk about a study coming out of the United States that has looked at a linkage between asbestos in drinking water and some benign forms of cancer of the stomach,” said Sam Ferris, executive director of the municipal branch at the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment. “We don’t know how rigorous that study is and we really need the time to look at that and any other emerging information.
“If the city wanted to go ahead and test for asbestos in its drinking water it could certainly do that on its own,” said Ferris. “Also, I might add that, just because Regina has asbestos-based pipes does not necessarily mean that there is asbestos in the water supply,” Ferris added. “There is usually a film that develops around the pipes that protect them to some degree.
“There certainly could be some reference dosage you would find in water that would be boiled,” said Ferris. He went on to say that there is conflicting data on whether or not levels of asbestos from sources such as humidifiers, showers and boiling water pose any threat. He also pointed out that on an average day it would not be uncommon to come in contact with some asbestos from natural sources
The city plans to reline all of the deteriorating asbestos-laden pipes. Some of the pipes, the ones that have been in operation for nearly 70 years, will be completely replaced once they pose a significant enough risk of bursting.