A recent study by University of Otago geography researchers has found “abundant evidence” of asbestos fibres in drinking water in 35 locations around Christchurch and say this would be replicated in water supplies around the country.
Asbestos cement was used for water pipes worldwide from the 1930s until the 1980s, when it became clear they could release asbestos fibres into water supplies when damaged.
While the dangers of airborne asbestos as a carcinogen are well known, the health implications for ingesting it has not been conclusively established, and there is no regulatory threshold for asbestos fibre limits in New Zealand drinking water.
The World Health Organisation, the current NZ Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality Management, and the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines state there is insufficient data available worldwide to derive a health-based link to asbestos in drinking water.
The University of Otago study found the impacts of asbestos in drinking water have been under-studied and recommended all councils “adopt monitoring of asbestos fibres from the reticulated water supply, especially as these pipes reach end-of-life, to detect pipe deterioration and prioritise pipe sections for replacement”.
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