Asbestos water pipes may pose health risk

Thousands of kilometres of cement water pipes that contain asbestos need replacing across Australia, posing potential risks to residents and workers. 

About one-quarter of the country’s water pipes – 40,000km – contain deteriorating asbestos and must be removed at a cost of about $400 million, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) says. In a new report, the government agency examines six cases of pipe rehabilitation in Victoria, Queensland and WA, and identifies best practice for safe and effective management and removal. The issue is most significant for Victoria, which has about 70% of the country’s asbestos-containing pipes. ASEA says there is no evidence of current risk to residents via drinking water. But this could change as the pipes deteriorate, and workers may be exposed to airborne asbestos fibres during removal and replacement. “Much of the pipe, which was installed 50, 60 or 70 years ago, is coming to the end of its useful life,” CEO Peter Tighe told “We have looked at best practice and want to come up with a set of national guidelines. This is a problem we can’t ignore and we need a consistent approach. “There is no evidence to date that there is a problem with drinking water, but in the worst-case scenario, as the cement starts to break down, there could be. We also need to protect the workforce and make sure we don’t leave a legacy in relation to clean-up.” Ingesting asbestos fibres is not considered as serious as inhaling them, because the digestive system is more robust than the lungs, but prolonged exposure can still lead to certain cancers.

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