eThekwini has no plans to replace asbestos water pipes


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May 21, 2023

eThekwini has no plans to replace asbestos water pipes

THE Asbestos Cement Pipe Replacement Project that eThekwini Municipality

THE Asbestos Cement Pipe Replacement Project that eThekwini Municipality undertook in 2007 to replace asbestos cement water pipes in Kingsburgh and other areas with polyvinyl chloride pipes (PVC) was meant to solve water woes. The asbestos cement pipes had been installed in the 1960s and had reached the end of their life cycle.

At the time, eThekwini Water and Sanitation's (EWS) project executive, Alan Kee, said the project was part of planning ahead to prevent a full-blown water crisis. According to Kee, the new modified PVC pipes were to provide residents with 50 years of leak-free service.

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When it commenced, the project was to replace 2 800km of the 100mm and 150mm asbestos cement secondary water mains at a cost of R850m. In June 2010, when the project came to an end, only 1 600km had been replaced at a cost of R1.6b.

Illovo Beach resident Andrew Mitchell said a site on Beach Road in the area has continuously experienced a pipe breakage that has seen thousands of litres of fresh water wash down the road, leaving residents with no water.

"One day after the same pipe was repaired for the second time in a few days, I noticed that the pipe that had been replaced was made up of asbestos," said Mitchell.

The pieces of the pipe that the SUN saw were brittle and had lost their inner lining. While asbestos inhalation has been proven to cause cancer, studies on whether ingestion causes any diseases have remained largely inconclusive.

André Beetge, who is eThekwini's executive committee member, said there is no blanket approach to replacing asbestos concrete piping with PVC across the city because of cost implications.

"There are indeed sections that have been prone to continued bursts, which clearly indicates that the particular line is far past its life expectancy. One such section is located in Illovo Beach, and a request has already been made to register a special project to replace the line from the tower in Saville Lane to Illovo's Beach Road. This to coincide with extensive attention to the water tower that has, over the past few years, been showing rapid deterioration to the point where chunks of concrete are breaking off," said Beetge.

The Helen Suzman Foundation has condemned the continued use of asbestos cement pipes to transport drinking water. The foundation's researcher, Nhlanhla Mnisi, said the World Health Organisation (WHO), the International Labour Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme, have called on countries to eliminate asbestos-related diseases by ceasing to use asbestos products.

"Asbestos cement pipes are among the leading sources of asbestos fibres in drinking water. Aggressive water pressure, length of pipes and age are the major contributory factors for the exfoliation and the subsequent release of asbestos fibres into drinking water. This risk has led many water-service authorities to introduce asbestos cement pipe replacement projects," said Mnisi.

While some uncertainty remains as to whether ingesting asbestos fibres are hazardous to human health, Mnisi said a precautionary approach does not require certainty for beneficial actions to be taken.


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