One hears about cement pipe primarily as it relates to water distribution, although they have also been used in chimneys, flues, and various other building systems. Asbestos cement – also known as transite – pipes were used extensively in the western United States in the mid-1900s. In 2004, the American Water Works Association conducted a study and found that asbestos cement pipes make up between 15-18 percent of the country’s water distribution system.
Asbestos cement pipes were designed to last about 70 years. However, it’s important to remember that this is by no means a hard and fast number. In fact, studies have found that, where water is concerned, the chances of asbestos pipe failing after 50 years of use goes up dramatically, to about one failure per year, per mile of pipe. Studies estimate that, throughout the United States and Canada, there are more than 600,000 miles of asbestos pipe currently in use.
In addition to age, a pipe’s integrity can be compromised by the local environment or manufacturing defects. When a pipe begins to corrode, it poses a danger to those around it. If the pipes are a part of a water distribution system, anyone who’s serviced by it is at risk of asbestos exposure. In more conventional scenarios, degraded pipes could be spreading asbestos fibers into the air, harming anyone nearby who inhales them.
Identifying Asbestos in Cement Pipes?
As with many other asbestos-containing materials, the easiest way to determine whether cement pipes are composed of transite is to have them professionally tested. Asbestos test kits can be purchased online and are relatively inexpensive. However, when using one of these kits, it’s important to collect a sample in such a way that doesn’t cause asbestos to spread. Take only a small sample, and wet it down before doing so. This will help ensure that asbestos dust won’t spread.
Health Risks of Asbestos Pipes
The most common health risk associated with asbestos exposure is mesothelioma, a lung cancer which forms in the lining of the lungs, heart, and abdomen. The most common form of mesothelioma is that which forms in the lungs, and it’s caused by inhaling asbestos fibers. These fibers become airborne when material containing the substance degrades or becomes damaged and breaks apart.
In a water delivery system, pipes can degrade, but their fibers don’t become airborne. Instead, they can be swept away and mix in with a local water supply. If they’re digested, they could eventually lead to mesothelioma forming in an individual’s abdomen.
If Your Ceilings Contain Asbestos
Should your test come back positive and your ceilings do contain asbestos, the best – and safest – course of action may be to do nothing. Asbestos is only dangerous when it’s friable, meaning that it crumbles or disintegrates easily. If your ceiling is good condition, then tearing it apart will expose you to unnecessary risk.
How to Remove and Dispose of Asbestos
While laws and regulations can vary from community to community, it is often legally permitted to remove any asbestos-containing materials yourself. However, there are instances in which removing asbestos cement pipe would not be advisable, depending on the amount of material you have to move.
Regardless of the job’s size, there are some rules to follow anytime asbestos-containing material needs to be removed from the home.
- Seal off your work area. This will keep asbestos dust from spreading to other areas of your home.
- Protect yourself. Wear clothes that will cover your entire body, such as jeans and a long sleeve shirt. Because these are likely to be covered in asbestos dust, wear clothes you won’t mind throwing away. Wear safety equipment, such as gloves, goggles, and a respirator.
- Do not sweep or use a vacuum to remove asbestos, as this will only cause it to become airborne. Wet it with a mister beforehand.
- When materials have to be broken apart in order to be removed, make sure they’re left in the largest pieces possible. Breaking them into smaller pieces only causes more fibers to spread in the air.
- Once the asbestos has been removed, place it in a marked bag (these can be purchased at any hardware store). These must then be disposed of at an approved asbestos disposal site. A list of these sites can typically be found by calling your local EPA office.