In a move that has residents pitted against city officials, and the town council divided against itself, the City Council of Davie, Florida has approved by majority vote the re-use of asbestos-cement water pipe (ACP) in what is expected to become a city park.
The ACP, part of the former Palma Nova mobile home park, which housed more than 900 families, is expected to be left in situ when the conversion, from mobile home park to recreational park (or as a property for sale for development), occurs.
The dispute arises from the city’s purchase of the 25-acre site from developer Austin Forman in December of 2009. At that time, the city of Davie paid $12.5 million for the entire site, including more than 1,000 feet of asbestos-cement water and sewer pipes.
After the purchase, the city learned that removing the pipes would cost $30,000 – a huge expense for a small-town budget, and one unlikely to be recouped whether the city converts the property to a park or sells it to another developer, given today’s land values and a persistent housing recession.
The city of Davie isn’t alone. Asbestos-cement water pipe is increasingly becoming a problem in other American towns and cities as aging infrastructure and redevelopment force the uprooting of ACPs that have been in the ground for as much as a century.
According to Winnipeg Free Press reporter Barbara Robson, who did an exhaustive report on the subject in 1987, these ACPs comprise more than 400,000 miles of drinking water pipe in the U.S., and as the pipes degrade under the influence of additives like chlorine and fluoride, deadly microscopic asbestos fibers are released. Highly acidic water can also cause accelerated degradation in ACPs.
The most recent site of concern about ACPs is in Denver, Colorado, where present and former Denver Water workers claim the utility re-buried excavated ACPs in soil around the Foothills Water Treatment Facility.
In Davie, where the city’s Utility Director, Bruce Taylor, argues that the 40-year-old pipes are “safe enough” to leave in situ to provide drinking water for fountains, the conflict is heating up. Not everyone supports Taylor, though asbestos experts like Brent Kynoch of the Maryland-based firm, Environmental Information Association, notes that asbestos fibers entering the water stream from degraded ACPs do not necessarily cause cancer.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors asbestos as one of many hazardous chemicals, notes only that drinking water containing asbestos “well in excess” of the maximum contaminant level, or MCL, for long periods of time can cause benign intestinal polyps.
The World Health Organization, in its 1996 report on asbestos in drinking water, says that – although the substance is a known human carcinogen when inhaled – there is no evidence to support an increased risk of cancer when the fiber is ingested via drinking water.
Kynoch advised city officials to monitor the water going through the ACPs and test it for asbestos. Taylor insists the only danger from asbestos is when it becomes airborne.
Taylor is supported by Councilman Marlon Luis, and Mayor Judy Paul, and opposed by Vice Mayor Susan Starkey, who wants the pipes removed to insure that the land is not “tainted”. Another opponent is Davie resident Ruth Dreyer, who noted that – if the property becomes a public park – children will be drinking the water.
The asbestos legacy – from a century of using asbestos in all manner of building, insulative and automotive products – currently results in 10,000 Americans dying from asbestos-related diseases every year. Of those, 2,500 succumb to mesothelioma, a “silent killer” that takes decades to manifest and generally kills within a year of diagnosis.
Sources: Doulton Water website, Roxborough Water and Sanitation District, Fort Lauderdal Sun Sentinel