What are they? Should I be concerned?
By John Geiger
What are AC water lines?
Asbestos cement (AC) water lines are pipes or conduit used for transporting water that contain asbestos fibers as a component of their construction material.
Asbestos, a mineral known for its fire-resistant and insulating properties, was widely used in water distribution systems and other applications until its health hazards were better understood. It began to be phased out in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s but was not officially banned until much later. In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the Asbestos Ban and Phase-Out Rule, which was intended to ban most asbestos-containing products, including AC water lines. However, this ban was overturned by a federal court in 1991, and as a result, the use of asbestos-containing water lines was still allowed in certain circumstances. It wasn’t until 1996 that the EPA issued a revised rule that effectively banned the manufacturing, importation, processing, and distribution of asbestos-containing products, including AC water lines.
Are they safe?
While the water flowing through AC water lines is safe for consumption, danger lies when the material is brought to the surface for repair or replacement. Exposure to air can cause the material to become friable, which can then separate and release asbestos fibers from the concrete material when it is airborn. If inhaled, the fibers can cause serious health issues, including lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and mesothelioma. EPA regulations ensure careful handling during repair or replacement of these lines to prevent the release of fibers.
Do they serve The Woodlands?
Like water systems throughout the United States that were installed in the 1990’s and earlier, areas of The Woodlands contain AC water lines. The “main” lines (12” and larger in diameter) are owned and managed the San Jacinto River Authority (SJRA), our wholesale water provider. Smaller distribution lines are owned and operated by various MUD’s managed by Woodlands Water Agency. While these lines continue to serve the community well, some are almost 50 years old and nearing the end of their service life: as AC lines age, they lose mechanical strength, and break more frequently. Repairing breaks is costly and results in disruption in service.
Woodlands Water and SJRA are currently studying the most cost-effective way to manage aging AC lines, along with other aging water, wastewater, and drainage infrastructure. Ensuring reliable, high-quality service today and for future generations is paramount.