With the cost of dealing with 40,000km of water mains pipes containing asbestos across Australia expected to significantly rise, a nationally consistent approach to managing asbestos in water mains is required.

The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) has released a report examining six cases of water and sewerage pipes containing asbestos in Australia, projecting a large increase in the cost of asbestos removal.

The ASEA said that the issue was most significant for Victoria, which has around 70 per cent of the country’s asbestos-containing water main pipes.

“Around one quarter of Australia’s water main pipes, as well as 5000km of sewer mains, contain deteriorating asbestos,” ASEA CEO, Peter Tighe, said.

“While there is no evidence that asbestos in cement pipes is a danger to drinking water, planning for the long term management of asbestos is important for community safety.

“Currently, the cost of rehabilitation of asbestos water pipes is around $400 million nationally. This cost is expected to rise significantly as the infrastructure ages, and this has implications for water consumers.

“However, there are no nationally consistent regulations around asbestos pipeline programs.

“Water authorities and governments around the country are encouraged to follow the findings of this report to ensure that planning is in place, and that best practice in removal of legacy asbestos from water mains is followed.”

Mr Adam Lovell, Executive Director, Water Services Association of Australia, said, “We welcome a nationally consistent approach to managing asbestos cement water mains and increased collaboration and communication between governments, water authorities, industry and customers. Our members across Australia will continue to ensure the health and safety of staff and the public as they manage infrastructure that may contain asbestos.”

The Agency recommends governments, water authorities and the industry all work toward the development of a clear set of nationally consistent regulations around practices to remove asbestos from water mains.

Based on the six case studies of asbestos removal from water and sewer mains, the Agency has made best practice findings around:

  • The importance of long-term planning to ensure that costs and other issues are factored into water authorities’ future plans
  • Detailed and sophisticated policies and procedures to manage risk and ensure safety
  • Improved communication with the public around disruptions
  • Better collaboration between government, water authorities and industry around findings on long-term management of asbestos in water pipes

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