Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Change our pipes! - Residents fear asbestos cement pipes in St Thomas but NWC says no need to worry

Published:Sunday | April 5, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Labourers under the supervision of representatives of the Chemistry Department of the University of the West Indies load asbestos pipes into a container at Burke Road in Old Harbour, St Catherine, in 2007.


The use of asbestos cement pipes by the National Water Commission (NWC) is causing concern in yet another community.

Asbestos is a known cancer-causing agent, and despite the World Health Organisation reporting that there is no evidence that asbestos ingested into the body through drinking water results in cancer tumours, the St Thomas Parish Development Committee (PDC) wants them out.

Secretary of the PDC Dorette Abrahams told The Sunday Gleaner that it has been trying to get the NWC to address the issue of degraded asbestos cement pipes for sometime.

According to Abrahams, even an NWC document titled 'St Thomas Water Supply Improvement Plans Draft' that was published in 2011 called for the immediate removal of more than 15 kilometres of degraded asbestos pipes throughout the parish.

"Yallahs, Albion, and Morant Bay, all have these asbestos concrete pipelines, but because the people are not aware of the dangers of asbestos, more persons aren't more vocal about this issue," said Abrahams, who is a cancer survivor.

She said the PDC is planning a number of district association meetings to discuss this because asbestos is a major carcinogen and people need to know what they are putting into their bodies.

"We had written to the NWC a number of times and then president Kingsley Thomas had argued that the asbestos pipes are only dangerous to health if they are broken, but the report says right here that the pipes are degraded and are leaking, so they are obviously broken," argued Abrahams as she skipped through the 200-page NWC draft document.

While the document called for the replacement of the asbestos concrete pipes mainly because of their degradation, which was causing 70 per cent of the water generated in the parish to be going to waste, it was also argued that the pipes represented a major health hazard.

"So that means the sick people who are going to Princess Margaret Hospital, which serves the entire parish, could be getting sicker from the water that they are getting from the pipes," argued Abrahams.

"The Water Commission needs to address this report immediately and stop acting as if lives in St Thomas don't matter."

However, communications manager at the NWC Charles Buchanan dismissed the claim that the asbestos pipes could be making residents of St Thomas sick.


no link


According to Buchanan, these pipes are used all over the world.

"Studies by the World Health Organization and other health research bodies have shown no link between the use of asbestos cement pipes in water supply systems and any health problems, including lung or gastrointestinal cancer. As a result, these pipes continue to be used in water-supply systems around the world, including in Canada and the United States," argued Buchanan.

"While asbestos cement pipes are known for their superior strength, durability, cost, ability to be utilised in a variety of temperatures and environmental conditions as compared with other types of pipe, the joints are also known to be prone to leakage after a certain age. This has nothing to do with the pipes themselves, but with the rubber material used at the joints," added Buchanan.

He said it is the policy of the NWC to replace leaking asbestos pipes, but this was in no way due to concerns over drinking-water quality or public health.

"The National Water Commission's policy is to use new asbestos cement pipes only in sewerage systems and to replace those existing in water-supply systems whenever they are broken. That has been, and remains, the position of the National Water Commission."