Tap water at Kevin Fitzpatrick’s mechanic shop in Langford likely comes from nearby asbestos cement pipes.
“It makes you worry, it makes you wonder,” said Fitzpatrick upon hearing that news outside Fitz’s Walker Power.
There are eight kilometres of asbestos cement pipes in Langford. The piping was installed decades ago, when the material was favoured for its durability.
The pipes are reaching the end of their lives, so the Capital Regional District, which provides drinking water to southern Vancouver Island, is replacing them.
Fitzpatrick says the notion of asbestos cement pipes concerns him. “If that’s the case, test the water, get on it,” he said.
CTV’s W5 discovered that thousands of kilometres of asbestos cement pipes are in place in at least 85 communities across Canada, including on Vancouver Island, notably in communities like Langford, Colwood, Nanaimo, Qualicum Beach and Ladysmith.
There’s growing concern that as those pipes age, asbestos could leach into the drinking water.
“We are constantly getting more and more evidence, some of it going back 50 years, but more and more evidence that it can cause gastrointestinal tract cancers,” said Arthur Frank, a public health professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
Inhaling asbestos is proven to cause cancer. Ingesting or drinking it is less clear. The European Union is advocating its member states remove the pipes.
However, Health Canada maintains there’s no consistent evidence that drinking asbestos is harmful.
“I am concerned people can get cancer from ingestion, including from asbestos in water pipes,” said Frank.
W5 tested the drinking water in Winnipeg and Regina, discovering the presence of asbestos in both cities. There’s no federal or provincial requirements to test for asbestos in water, and no maximum limit of asbestos allowed by regulation.
The CRD says the water it provides to the region meets all federal, provincial and Island Health standards. It tells CTV News it doesn’t test for asbestos, however, and says it doesn’t do so because it’s not required to.
In Nanaimo, there’s more than 100 kilometres of asbestos cement pipes. The city has tested for asbestos in the drinking water since the 1990s, leaving Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog confident residents are safe.
“The risk to the public, I would argue, is zero to pretty much nil, in the circumstances,” said Krog Monday, while drinking a glass of water.
“People are safe to drink Nanaimo’s water, which is frankly, and I say with pride, about the best water you’ll find anywhere in North America.”
The CRD plans to replace all asbestos cement pipes throughout the West Shore by 2055.