WC132 SeptOct 2023 - Magazine - Page 18
A THIRSTY SECRET
Asbestos in Canada’s water supply
BY SAUL CHERNOS
O ASBESTOS FIBRES in municipal drinking water merit the same level of attention as airborne transmission from
building materials, automotive parts, and other products?
Even though Canada has banned the manufacture, export,
and use of asbestos since 2018, there’s no standard for its
presence in potable water, and thus no expectations on the part
of municipalities and water utilities. However, change could be in
the offing. Health Canada has announced its intent to reassess the
matter starting later this year.
Asbestos, a naturally occurring fibrous silicate mineral, has
long been valued for its exceedingly strong thermal, fire-resistant
properties. Ancient Egyptians wrapped the embalmed bodies of
their pharaohs in asbestos cloth as early as 3000 B.C. in order to
preserve them for eternity, and archaeologists have found fibres
in candle and lamp wicks, and pottery, dating back even further.
By the late 19th century, an entire industry had formed around
the mineral to meet growing demand for inclusion in goods as
far-flung as stage curtains, brake pads, and ceiling tiles.
Saul Chernos is a freelance writer
for Water Canada.
Asbestos’ ancient legacy
Even in the early going, there was an awareness of potential
health risks. Slaves handling asbestos in Ancient Egypt wore
primitive masks made from animal stomach membranes. By
the early 1900s, researchers began documenting breathing-related illnesses among people living and working in mining
communities and in factories where asbestos was used. Britain
WATER C AN ADA • SEP TEMBER/OC TOBER 2023
WAT E R C A N A D A . N E T