Experts know that there is asbestos in the water pipes of Regina, Saskatchewan. However, officials and microbiologists claim that the mixture of asbestos and cement that forms in the city’s pipes is protected by a thin layer of slime produced by bacteria living in the pipes, and that neither the bacteria nor the asbestos is a threat to citizens’ lives.
Dr. Roy Cullimore, a Regina microbiologist, studied the city’s water pipes for a National Research Council project, and came into contact with the bacteria that inhabit the pipes.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that has been known to be the cause of mesothelioma and other potentially fatal diseases for many years. The mixture of asbestos and concrete that compose Regina’s pipes, according to Dr. Cullimore, was used because the asbestos makes the concrete stronger and also strengthens the pipes themselves. This was a common practice in older days, when asbestos engineering was employed in any number of municipal and private uses.
Dr. Cullimore found that the bacterial slime that coats the pipes acts as a buffer, shielding the public water from asbestos exposure. The slime created by the bacteria effectively leeches the asbestos from the concrete, and from there, “the asbestos was actually then woven into a sheet by the action of the water moving over and then the bacteria coat the fibers with growth,” says Cullimore.
Essentially, the slime keeps the asbestos under control and allows water to flow through the pipes without obstruction. Contrary to many residents’ opinions, the slime actually protects the water and removal of the slime would be detrimental in that it would allow more asbestos to come into contact with the water. As it is now, some asbestos is present in the water, but in such scant amounts that officials claim it does not pose any health threats to residents.