Green Party leaders are demanding action and answers on tens of thousands of old asbestos cement water pipes in Canada. The pipes were installed decades ago. Federal studies show the pipes can contain up to 20% asbestos fibres, that they deteriorate with age, and can release fibres into the water causing a “health concern.”
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates asbestos in water. It maintains long-term ingestion (swallowing) of asbestos can cause lung disease and cancer. Health Canada says there is no consistent, convincing evidence that ingesting asbestos is hazardous. It is not regulated in water in Canada. In 1992, the EPA established a Maximum Contaminant Level of seven million fibres per litre (7 MFL) for asbestos in water “To protect against cancer.”
“There is over 1,000 kilometres of this old water pipe in Saskatchewan,” said provincial Green Party Leader Naomi Hunter. “Water Security Agency Minister Fred Bradshaw is on the record saying there is no scientific issue with ingested asbestos. What utter nonsense. We know that asbestos is an extremely toxic material. We know that there is a lot of this pipe, and that it is breaking in record numbers. How can asbestos cause cancer in Americans, and not Canadians? The time has long since passed for provincial and federal governments to get serious about this issue.”
The old water pipe is not exclusive to Saskatchewan. A recent media investigation showed there is more than 1,000 kilometres of asbestos cement pipe in Quebec. The provincial government has committed to testing for asbestos in water by the end of 2022.
“Why do Quebec residents have to wait so long to learn whether there might be asbestos in their water,” asked Quebec Green Party Leader Alex Tyrrell? “All Canadians deserve clean, safe drinking water. It’s a fundamental human right. Testing for asbestos should begin immediately.”
Alberta Greens are likewise concerned. In Edmonton alone there are also more than 1000 km of asbestos cement water mains. “I can’t believe this isn’t a major news story” states Jordan Wilkie, Green Party of Alberta leader. “We need immediate testing and remediation where necessary to remove this hazard from our drinking water”.
The Green Party leaders are calling on the federal government to immediately launch a study to find out how much asbestos cement water pipe is still in use in Canada, and the condition of that pipe.
“Only when we know the extent of the problem can we deal with it,” said Hunter, pointing to a 2018 Canada-U.S. study that shows asbestos cement water main breaks have increased a whopping 43% since 2012. “The problem with asbestos cement water pipes is just going to get worse over time. It’s time for federal and provincial governments to get their heads out of the sand, and deal with this important health issue,” Hunter said.
For decades, the National Research Council Canada (NRC) has warned about the possible dangers posed by asbestos cement water pipes. A 2010 study entitled Safety and Waste Management of Asbestos Cement Pipes, points to “concerns about the inhalation of airborne asbestos from showers, humidifiers, etc.” Another 2010 NRC study says asbestos fibres from severely deteriorated pipes “could pose a hazard of malignant tumors of the gastrointestinal tract and other organs in consumers.”
“This is the premiere scientific and research arm of the federal government,” said Hunter. “Why isn’t the federal government listening to its own experts, instead of pretending that there is insufficient evidence that drinking asbestos is harmful?”
The federal Liberal government promised to ban asbestos and “asbestos-containing materials” in 2018. Yet when the regulations were introduced asbestos cement water pipes already in use were exempt. At the time, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna downplayed the potential impact of the exemption, telling journalists “None of these exemptions will impact on human health.”
“That is an absolutely worthless assurance,” said Hunter, questioning why the health minister wasn’t the person to address this issue. “Canada doesn’t even require testing for asbestos in water. The federal government needs to take steps to regulate asbestos in water, so Canadians can enjoy every assurance that the water they are using is safe. The Green Party is committed to doing that.”
Green Party of Quebec Leader
Green Party of Alberta Leader