If you’re like me, and you care about the food and drink your family consumes, you need to be aware of Asbestos and how it can affect your water quality.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that has been used in many industrial and commercial applications, including water main pipes. It usually gets into our water supply in one of two ways: 1) from the deterioration of Asbestos cement in water mains, or 2) through the erosion of natural deposits. Consuming water containing Asbestos at levels greater than or equal to 7 Million Fibers per Liter (MFL) can cause adverse health effects.
Asbestos is one of the drinking water contaminants regulated by the EPA. This means public water companies are required to monitor their water supply for Asbestos and work to ensure the water they provide their customers does not exceed the legal limit for the contaminant. However, even with this standard in place, it’s still possible for your tap water to contain excessive amounts of Asbestos. Using data from the EPA, I estimated as many as 29 thousand Americans were exposed to water with potentially unsafe Asbestos levels at least once from 2010 to 2019.
How Asbestos Can Affect Water Quality and Your Health
You might be surprised to learn that one of the most common ways Asbestos can get into our drinking water is through the deterioration of some of the very pipes used to deliver it to our homes.
Most new water lines installed today are made of PVC. But, from the 1930s through the 1950s, water lines comprised of Asbestos cement were all the rage. As a result, there are still miles upon miles of Asbestos water pipes throughout the country.
According to a 2012 Houston Chronicle article, some 20% of the water lines in Houston, TX contained Asbestos cement at the time.
What is Asbestos, exactly? Asbestos is a fibrous mineral known for its durability and flexibility. Historically, it was used in commercial applications, including brake pads, insulation, and other building materials. But, given Asbestos was found to cause adverse health conditions, it’s much less widely used today.
How can drinking water that contains Asbestos affect your health? If you consume water that contains elevated levels of Asbestos over a prolonged period, you may have an increased risk of developing benign intestinal polyps.
At what level can Asbestos cause health problems? Asbestos is known to cause adverse health effects when its concentration in drinking water is at or above 7 MFL.
In an effort to protect our health, the EPA established legally enforceable standards to limit the amount of Asbestos in our drinking water. Public water companies are required to ensure the concentration of Asbestos in the water they provide their customers is kept at or below 7 MFL.
Given available treatment technology, water utility companies should be able to provide drinking water that meets this quality standard. However, at least one public water system violated the regulatory limit for Asbestos in 2019.
Does Your Drinking Water Contain a Harmful Amount of Asbestos?
Public water companies are required to provide customers with an annual water quality report, also known as a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). Inside this report, you’ll find important information about your drinking water, including where it comes from, and whether it tested positive for any regulated contaminants like Asbestos.
Most Populated Areas with Violations for Asbestos from 2010 to 2019
|Briarcliff Manor, NY|
Briarcliff Manor Village
Central WCID of Angelina County
City of Devine
FCWWD #41/Shaver Lake
Jefferson Co RWD 1
If you’re curious to know how much Asbestos was found in your city’s drinking water, grab a copy of the latest CCR and look for the section of the report that covers “Inorganic Contaminants.” Here, you’ll find test results for Asbestos as well as other contaminants like Arsenic, Mercury, and Nitrate.
How to Interpret Your Water Quality Report
When looking at your water quality report, you’ll likely see test results for Asbestos reported in Millions of Fibers per Liter (MFL).
Below is an example of what you might see on your annual water quality report if Asbestos is detected in your town’s drinking water:
Example Water Quality Report
|MCLG (1)||MCL (2)||Average|
Definitions from the EPA:
1. Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) – The level of a contaminant in drinking water below which there is no known or expected risk to health. MCLGs allow for a margin of safety and are non-enforceable public health goals.
2. Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) – The highest level of a contaminant that is allowed in drinking water. MCLs are set as close to MCLGs as feasible using the best available treatment technology and taking cost into consideration. MCLs are enforceable standards.
In this example, water samples contained an average of 13 MFL of Asbestos, exceeding both the public health goal level (MCLG) and the legal limit (MCL) for the contaminant.
Will You Be Notified If Your Water Contains an Unsafe Level of Asbestos?
In addition to providing you with an annual quality report, your water company is required by the EPA to notify you if they identify a problem with your drinking water.
If your water company delivers water that could negatively impact your health, they have to notify you of the situation within the timeframe set by the EPA. Depending on the severity of the issue, the company is given 24 hours to 30 days to provide this notice.
If your city’s water exceeds the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for Asbestos, your water company must notify you within 30 days of the violation. Typically, you will receive this notice via the media or through the mail.
What Can You Do to Remove Asbestos from Your Tap Water?
Fortunately, if you want to limit your family’s exposure to Asbestos, there are several affordable yet effective options for removing the contaminant from your tap water.
But how can you tell which products work and which ones don’t? Well, if you want peace of mind, I recommend choosing a water treatment product that is certified by NSF International (NSF) to be effective at removing Asbestos from water.
What does the NSF certification represent? When a product is NSF certified to remove Asbestos, you can rest assured that:
- the manufacturer’s contaminant reduction claims have been verified;
- the system was tested to confirm it adds nothing harmful to the water;
- the system has been found to be structurally sound;
- the product’s advertising, literature, and labeling have all been verified as accurate;
- and there is testing in place to determine whether the quality of the product is consistent over time.
Do all NSF certified water filters work against Asbestos? Water treatment devices can earn certification for meeting one or more NSF standards or protocols. But only those products that meet NSF standard NSF/ANSI 53 for Asbestos are certified to reduce the amount of the contaminant that’s in your water.
One such product, the Clean Water Machine by Aquasana, is NSF certified to remove up to 99% of the Asbestos found in your tap water. The device sits on your countertop and does not require a lengthy installation process so you can set it up in a matter of minutes.
3 steps for selecting the right water treatment system for your family:
- Review your area’s annual water quality report to find out what’s in your drinking water.
- Determine which contaminants you’d like to reduce from your water.
- Select a water treatment product that is NSF certified to work effectively against those contaminants you’d like to reduce from your tap water.
Just remember, no matter which water treatment product you choose, you need to make sure to perform the routine maintenance suggested by the manufacturer. This will help keep the device in proper working order and limit your family’s exposure to Asbestos.
- Asbestos and Your Health (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
- The Asbestos Beneath Our Streets
- National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (EPA)
Date: May 21, 2020
- Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) Federal Reporting Services (EPA)
Date: May 20, 2020
- NSF Certified vs. Tested to NSF Standards (NSF)