As you will be aware we have had major concerns about our ageing and deteriorating asbestos cement drinking water pipes for some time now. Due to the age of previous significant development in Cranleigh in the 60’s, we suspected that they may contain crocidolite (blue asbestos), in addition to chrysotile (white asbestos). Although Thames Water assured us that the pipes were constructed from white asbestos, our own research did not reflect this, and we have been pushing for testing to be carried out.
Over the past two weeks we were successful in getting Thames Water to send a section of drinking water pipe, being replaced in the Hitherwood area, for independent testing to confirm the presence of blue asbestos (crocidolite). This has now been confirmed.
The presence of crocidolite (blue asbestos) is not the result we were hoping for, but it is in line with the guidance given on the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) website under the Asbestos section. HSE state that asbestos cement pipes made prior to 1969 are likely to contain crocidolite.
A further section of pipe from the Summerlands area has been tested and this has been shown to contain only white asbestos. We have asked also requested details from Thames Water of the percentage of blue to white asbestos, and to assess how much deterioration has taken place in the pipes. Furthermore, we have requested that a section of pipe be tested from the Park Mead area, although we have been told that this will not be carried out until there is a burst pipe there. We will be challenging Thames water on this.
Blue and white asbestos have very different risks associated with them, with the crocidolite being considered more hazardous. We should stress that the majority of evidenced high risks are associated with inhaling asbestos fibres, however, there does appear to be a growing evidence base worldwide that suggests that there is also a risk associated with ingested fibres.
Recently Australia and New Zealand have announced replacement programmes for their asbestos cement pipes, and in the USA they already test drinking water for asbestos fibres, and have set maximum guidelines, testing is NOT carried out in the UK.
We have been asking the authorities, including the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), since September 2016 to assess the risk to Cranleigh residents from a high percentage of ageing and deteriorating asbestos cement drinking water pipes without success. Asbestos cement pipes have a 50-70 year design life and some of these in Cranleigh are approaching 70 years old. The issue also affects residents in Dunsfold, Ewhurst and Alfold, we have not looked into any of the other surrounding areas. In a recent planning application in Waverley for development in Alfold, once again the Society advised Waverley of the existence of blue asbestos in the drinking water network, once again we were ignored.
We have questioned the position of the DWI. Whilst their blanket statement broadly states that there is no consistent evidence to suggest that asbestos is dangerous when ingested, we have studied their database of evidence and that of other qualified evidence available and we are of the opinion that the DWI, and the World Health Organisation (WHO), have based their studies in the main on chrysotile (white asbestos). Furthermore, many of the reports back in the 1970s and 1980s were sponsored by the asbestos industry, and in particular by the Chrysotile Institute, and they should be treated with some caution, as well as being based mainly on the effects of chrysotile.
In January 2017, in discussion with HSE, Cranleigh Civic Society circulated our own Risk Assessment under the Health and Safety Act looking at data from contemporary research carried out over the last few years, some of it by highly respected organisations such as the American Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health (a leading publication respected around the world). Our increasing concerns surrounding crocidolite remain, because of its needle-like structure, it has the potential to penetrate membranes in the body more easily than the more curly fibres of white asbestos.
Our research is continuing, and we have received this from a contact in New Zealand. It was put out by Radio New Zealand and is now on their website:
‘A $2.2 billion price tag has been put on the cost of replacing the country’s asbestos water supply pipelines.
Drinking water delivered through functioning asbestos pipes isn’t risky, but airborne particles from broken pipes can be dangerous.
Asbestos cement pipes were installed for local water supply networks from the 1950s to the 1970s, and manufacturers stopped producing them in the mid 1980’s. The pipes’ life expectancy is about 50 years so many will be due for replacement.
Functioning pipes being used for water do not pose a threat to health. The World Health Organisation has said swallowing asbestos present in water does not present the same cancer risk as inhaling dry particles. However, asbestos pipes that are cut or broken when dry can pose a health risk if particles are released into the air.
The Water Services Association of Australia has estimated it could cost $AU8b ($NZ9b) to safely remove Australia’s roughly 40,000km of worn-out asbestos piping.
Water New Zealand estimated the total length of this country’s water supply pipelines at 36,436km, with the network valued at $8.7b. It estimated 9000km of those pipes were made of asbestos cement and that they would need to be replaced in the next 20 to 30 years.
With many of the pipes nearing the end of their useful life, Water New Zealand chief executive John Pfahlert said local councils would have to do careful planning to make the replacement affordable to ratepayers. There were a number of available options cheaper than digging them out, such as relining existing pipes or leaving decommissioned pipes in the ground and placing new pipes around them, he said. Wellington Water spokesperson Alex van Paassen said replacing asbestos cement pipes, as opposed to those made of other materials, did require safety precautions. However, he said, those precautions would not add a significant amount to the overall cost of replacement. Mr van Paassen said pipes in Wellington were prioritised for renewal based on how critical the need for repairs was, or how many households were served, and not on whether they were made of asbestos.
“Wellington Water had a regular pipe renewal schedule for all types of pipes”, he said.’
We have continued to keep our MP Anne Milton informed of our research and she has now arranged a meeting on 24th July in Cranleigh to investigate this further. Thames Water, the DWI and other relevant parties have confirmed their attendance. This is also following the petition sent to Anne Milton following our public meeting on 25th May. We are grateful to her for listening to our concerns and seizing this opportunity to seek answers.
Cranleigh Civic Society, in consultation with the Government’s Health and Safety Executive, prepared a full Risk Assessment on the network of asbestos cement pipes in Cranleigh and sent this to Waverley Borough Council on the 29th January. Waverley ignored it.
We are aware that this subject will cause a high degree of concern in the village and we will of course keep you informed of any developments.