Dangers of Asbestos Cement Water Pipes

Asbestos hazard sign.

It is unnecessary to educate us on the dangers of asbestos, as we have been aware of its harmful effects for many years. “Asbestos causes cancer; it is a lethal carcinogen.” Consuming water from a leaking asbestos cement water pipe is dangerous. Regardless of how asbestos is ingested, exposure is hazardous. Further studies on the negative effects of asbestos on human health and the environment are not required. What is required is an accurate assessment of the state that asbestos pipes are in currently and an acknowledgment of the health hazards they pose to the people of Saskatchewan.


Asbestos served a central role in Canadian commercial product manufacturing throughout the 20th century. It was used in thousands of products before regulations were implemented in the 1980s. Canadians who worked in construction, manufacturing and other blue-collar industries were most at risk of asbestos exposure. Research shows approximately 20 percent of asbestos workers develop a related disease later in life. That means, on average, 20 percent of the workers who installed these pipes died due to a related disease later in life. And yet decades later we are still drinking out of the same asbestos cement water intake pipes they died from merely putting into place. We adamantly remove asbestos from all other forms of construction and take great precautions in its removal. We need to stop pretending a problem does not exist in the asbestos cement water pipes in current use through our communities, and acknowledge that asbestos exposure is tortuously fatal.

As the Saskatchewan community, we need to take immediate action to address the issue of underrepresented research in asbestos cement water pipes in our province, and stop downplaying the threat they pose by referring to them as “concrete pipes”. Simply calling Cancer “the C word” does not remove its sting; neither do governments remove the seriousness of asbestos by failing to call pipes “asbestos cement pipes”. In many of our communities, these are the same governments letting us drink from contaminated lead pipes. We must follow the science provided and stand at the forefront of this topic on a national level to gain federal funding, as we are the ones with something to lose in this situation. Our health and the health of our children depend on it!

Illness due to asbestos can take decades to surface, and it is easy for this government to make you believe it has no effect on your health. They cut corners and live in disbelief to gain a vote for their own personal short-term gains, rather than have your health and well-being in mind. The repercussions of not acting now, knowing the dangers, will be catastrophic; the odds of many people fatally falling ill due to this exposure are extremely high and widespread. This issue affects over 70% of the residents in Weyburn and Swift Current, 60% of Regina residents, and 30% of Saskatoon’s residents. Many small communities throughout Saskatchewan have similar scenarios without the budget to replace the aging infrastructure that is killing them, and help is needed from all levels of government.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates asbestos in water. It maintains that long-term ingestion (swallowing or breathing in) of asbestos can cause cancer or lung disease

To avoid short-term fixes we are requesting the provincial government conduct regulated assessments of all known asbestos cement pipes in the region and begin replacing any leaking pipes immediately and set up an active longterm plan to replace them all with safer materials. We must start with a more rigorous and accurate testing procedure, that tests from more taps in high-risk zones throughout all our affected communities. It is crucial to prevent any further harm to communities unaware of the health risks they face due to exposure to asbestos from leaking, and aging asbestos cement water pipes. It is our government’s responsibility to provide its citizens with accurate up to date information about the harms of asbestos in the water they are consuming, as well as the actual levels of asbestos we are consuming through our water intake systems.

We are asking the current provincial government to commit to setting aside funds in next year’s budget for replacing damaged water pipes in communities affected by leaks in asbestos cement pipes. All remaining pipes, regardless of their condition, should be replaced within a reasonable timeframe well ahead of the 70 year expiration date, which in retrospect poses an even more significant health risk. Furthermore, taking the initiative to prevent asbestos pipes from bursting and proactively replacing pipes before any further harm is posed to the people of Saskatchewan through our water supplies, should also be among our highest priorities, and not allowed to be pushed aside and forgotten.

It is imperative to focus on the safety of communities that have been unknowingly exposed to asbestos through their water supply. Ignoring this issue will not make it disappear. Our health and safety have been neglected for too long in favor of cost-cutting measures. The Saskatchewan Green Party is committed to protecting the health and safety of individuals and the environment. Asbestos not only poses a risk to our health when ingested but also when inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Prolonged exposure to asbestos can have a detrimental impact on ecosystems, livestock, agriculture, and wildlife.

The future we envision for ourselves is not some distant event on the horizon, it is already here, within our grasp. It is time to act and act decisively. We must make ethical choices that align with our values, and strategic decisions that ensure our success. The Saskatchewan Green Party is committed to acting today, to secure a brighter future for us all. Let’s work together to make it happen.

For more information contact:

Naomi Hunter
Saskatchewan Green Party Leader

There is no question that the ingestion of asbestos, like breathing it, much of which when cleared from lungs is then ingested, can lead to the development of a variety of cancers, including stomach, small and large intestine, and kidney cancer.” Dr. Arther Frank M.D., Environmental & Occupational Health Expert at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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  • Nancy Carswell