For decades, asbestos containing materials were used just about everywhere: piping, guttering and pipe insulation; the list seems endless. Unfortunately, that means your home may contain some form of asbestos cement piping if it was built from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Asbestos is only dangerous if it’s damaged or disturbed, but does that apply to piping too? Is asbestos piping safe? And how can you spot it in your property?
Are asbestos pipes safe?
Whether or not asbestos piping is safe is dependant on a number of factors. These include:
Age: Water New Zealand estimates that asbestos piping has a lifespan of about 50 years. After this time it’s likely to start degrading and releasing fibres into your water and the air around it. If your home was built 50 years ago or more, asbestos piping may be cause for concern.
Condition: since asbestos is only hazardous if it’s damaged, piping in good condition isn’t of immediate and urgent concern. If the piping is fraying, crumbling, broken or otherwise damaged, however, it may be hazardous.
Location and position: if asbestos piping is underground, buried, or otherwise encased, it may be of a lesser immediate risk. If it’s exposed, or located in high traffic areas of your home, it may cause more urgent health risks.
If your asbestos piping is disturbed and in poor condition the primary concern is the dust it releases into the air. These tiny fibres are covered in sharp barbs and can lodge themselves in your lungs, causing a number of serious illnesses, many of which can be deadly and often don’t show symptoms for over 15 years. Asbestos contaminated drinking water is a more contentious problem. The World Health Organisation’s official stance is that there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that ingesting asbestos in water is dangerous, and New Zealand has no official guidelines or limits on asbestos in drinking water.
However, the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency mandates that safe drinking water must contain no more than 7 MFL of asbestos, saying that higher levels can be dangerous, according to the ‘best available science’. The relative safety of asbestos piping may vary and the risk it poses in drinking water is unclear. However, if you spot the material in your home, or suspect its presence, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. It’s difficult for non-experts to locate and properly assess the risk posed by asbestos piping, so your best bet is to call in the specialists for proper asbestos sampling and testing.
Asbestos pipes in your property may be hidden behind walls or floorboards.
How can I spot asbestos pipes around my home?
If you’re not sure whether your property contains asbestos piping, you can perform a quick inspection to look for common signs. Before you start looking, remember to never touch or disturb material that you suspect is asbestos and under no circumstances should you attempt to remove it yourself.
Here are a few things to look out for:
● Grey asbestos cement water piping underneath your home.
● Cloth-like lagging, particularly around hot water pipes and cylinders.
● Gutters, downpipes and drain traps. Mould tends to thrive on old asbestos, so these may appear mottled.
● Rainwater heads and spouting.
Apart from visually inspecting your home, you could also request a LIM report from your council, which may contain details of any asbestos piping installed in the property. Unfortunately there are several types of asbestos piping and lagging, so for most people, identifying it will be difficult. Call the team at Chemcare today for help identifying and managing asbestos in your piping and throughout your property.
New Zealand’s asbestos piping problem
It’s unclear how widespread asbestos piping is in New Zealand homes, though we do know that roughly 9,000 km of local water supply network pipes are made of asbestos cement. The price tag to replace these is estimated at around $2.2 billion, most of which is taken up by the considerable safety precautions required to minimise health risks during asbestos removal.
The lifetime of such pipes is around 50 years, meaning the majority of this asbestos piping will have to be replaced in the next 20 to 30 years. If that does not happen, it’s possible that piping could begin to degrade and release fibres into the air when exposed.
The declining condition of asbestos cement piping lead to widespread concern in small town Temuka late last year. Residents were finding their water filters clogged by what they believed to be asbestos, and testing found high levels of the contaminant in the water. Residents were reminded that there was no evidence that asbestos contaminated water posed health risks but bottled water was provided as an alternative, regardless. The source of the contamination was later found to be a kilometre stretch of pipe that had degraded and had begun to release fibres into the water supply.
Everyday New Zealanders needn’t worry about contaminated drinking water. However, the extent of concrete piping on public property illustrates how prolific its use was throughout New Zealand, both on public and private properties. Asbestos is common in spouting and downpipes in houses throughout New Zealand.
Read more → The history of asbestos in New Zealand
Staying safe around asbestos piping
If you remember one thing from this article it should be that it’s never a good idea to touch, inspect, bump or otherwise disturb asbestos piping or ACMs in any way. If it’s kept in good condition there may be no health risks, but as soon as an inexperienced person disturbs the material, that may all change.
Homeowners whose properties were built or renovated from 1950 to the late 1980s should be wary of asbestos piping, be aware of its location, condition and extent, and have a plan for managing it if it’s present.
There’s no need to panic if you do discover asbestos piping. However, for peace of mind and to ensure your home and your family are safe, get in touch with the expert team here at Chemcare. We’re amongst the leading experts in asbestos testing and removal in New Zealand, and cost-effectively and safely identify and remove any asbestos piping in your home.
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