‘We have to find a solution’: W5 investigation explores risk of asbestos cement pipes in Regina

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Over 500 kilometres of asbestos cement pipes run through Regina’s water utility system, according to findings from a W5 investigation.

Due to their supposed durability and low cost, over two million kilometres of asbestos cement pipes could be found around the world at one point, with Canada being no exception.

Asbestos was once considered a miracle mineral, being used in thousands of products for its insulating and fireproofing properties.

However, in the 1960’s, Dr. Irving Selikoff discovered that asbestos particles were poisonous when inhaled and linked the mineral to the respiratory illnesses of millions of asbestos workers.

Now, a different kind of concern surrounds the use of asbestos.

“As these pipes start to age, as this infrastructure starts to go, they tend to fail catastrophically,” W5 correspondent Eric Szeto said.

“There’s concern that these fibres go off, break off these pipes, and end up going into your taps, and you end up drinking it.”

The science isn’t as clear about what happens if you ingest or drink asbestos particles.

Regardless, leading experts in the field are still worried.

“We are constantly getting more and more evidence. Some of it going back 50 years, but more and more evidence that it can cause gastrointestinal tract cancers,” Arthur Frank, a physician and professor of public health at Drexel University said.

Due to ground shifting, the Queen City is plagued with frequent breaks in its water lines.

Julian Branch, an activist and former journalist who lives in Regina, says there needs to be more awareness and more action from all levels of government on the issue.

“The asbestos is going into the water and according to our federal government, according to federal studies, it’s causing a health concern,” Branch said.

“Canadians should be very concerned about their drinking water.”

As part of its investigation, W5 contacted 100 communities across Canada. Ninety nine per cent of those communities that responded still used asbestos in their piping.

The European Union no longer wants asbestos cement pipes delivering water, with the organization advocating for their removal.

Meanwhile in Canada, there has been little push to do this federally.

Health Canada maintains there is no consistent evidence drinking or ingesting asbestos is harmful.

That stance has led to there to be no maximum limit to asbestos in water, and no maximum means there is no need for testing.

Branch believes that there is a “complete and utter lack of political accountability” on the issue.

“It’s up to the politicians today to find a solution. We can’t just keep pretending it’s not there,” he said.

“We have to find a solution to this before it’s too late.”

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