By Alix Noble
Water pipes in the Pemberton area are breaking down, exposing drinking and bathing water to asbestos.
The Ministry of Health claims that water-borne asbestos is not a health hazard, but residents are concerned that water evaporated from laundry dryers and hairdryers could create air-borne asbestos.
In a similar situation in Port Hardy, a report concluded that the small amount of asbestos released did not create health hazard.
A tender call by the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District set the price of replacing the pipes at $900,000. It's typically users on the system who pay for upgrades said SLRD solid waste management co-ordinator Mark Rowlands, but residents are hoping for a two-thirds government grant to pay for new pipes. There are 110 land parcels served by the pipes. If there was no government cost sharing replacing the pipes would cost each household roughly $1,100 a year for several years, said Rowlands.
At a community meeting last year, consensus was to apply for grants to offset the user costs of replacing the pipes. So far, all grant applications have been rejected.
Pemberton has also been caught in the middle of a government funding shuffle. An application for a federal/provincial infrastructure grant last year was denied, and a re-organization of grants has meant less money in provincial coffers for funding projects like the Pemberton water system.
Rowlands discovered the pipes were faulty last summer. Due to corrosive water in the Pemberton area, cement grout in the pipes corroded to expose an asbestos aggregate below. There are problem pipes in the Village of Pemberton and the outlying areas.
"The farther out you go, the worse they are," said Rowlands.
He estimated the pipes are at least 30 years old and noted that similar situations have come up with other old pipes in B.C., particularly on Vancouver Island.
The SLRD will continue to apply for municipal affairs grants, and plans to revisit the issue in the fall.
"The pipes are breaking down," said Rowlands, "and maintenance costs are up. We're going to reach a point where we just have to replace them."
"The norm is to get a grant," said Rowlands, "the trouble is that it's such a large amount of money for such a small number of parcels."