Salisbury’s Utilities Director Admits at Least 10% of Salisbury-Rowan Utilities Water Subscibers Drink Water from Asbestos Water Mains (Part I)

Posted on September 19, 2017

Todd Paris, Salisbury Attorney and Candidate for Salisbury City Council

♦ When I ran for Salisbury City Council in 2015 I became aware of a problem with the city’s water system.  From the 1930’s through the 1970’s the asbestos manufacturers marketed a product to cities all over the world: cement asbestos water mains. One brand name is “Transite.” It was marketed as an extraordinary product–flexible concrete.  Compared to industry standard cast iron water mains, it was cheaper, lighter, and easier to install and self insulating to a degree. This meant it did not need to be buried as deep in the ground to insulate the mains from the cold. Millions of miles were installed over the world. Most cites, existing before the 1970’s, are lousy with it. It’s so prevalent the EPA expects asbestos in municipal drinking water and sets maximum amounts allowed.

I spoke to some folks in Raleigh and asked what the McCrory Administration and the legislature knew about the asbestos challenge. Certain folks in Raleigh became quite concerned since most municipalities have loads of these asbestos-cement water mains and they are subdivisions of the state. I guess a massive state-wide clean-up could end up damaging state finances. Not wanting to start a panic, I didn’t bring it up directly during the 2015 election, preferring to share information with candidates I trusted. I hoped the new council would act. I asked that a plan be established and funded to begin remediation and that the Salisbury-Rowan Utilities would tell citizens what kind of filters to buy to filter out as much asbestos as was possible.

I brought this up in 2016, and in July of this year the Rowan Free Press revisited the issue and they posted a 2012 SRU water report page showing the presence of asbestos in an SRU water sample.

Of course, Salisbury’s City Council kicked this can down the road and these water mains have been and are now approaching or exceeding their life expectancy. We can find no records of testing since 2012. Money ten years ago that could have been spent on remediation (around $7.6 million) was “loaned to build Fibrant” and just this year another 7 million was spent to install electronic smart water meters. Mayor Alexander and Brian Miller knew about this problem before that decision was made. They “own” this. Part of me hoped the massive increase in revenue to SRU from the new more accurate “tighter” water meters would be used to remove and safely dispose of the cement asbestos water mains.

At a candidate question and answer session a few weeks back I finally got an opportunity to question Jim Behmer, Salisbury’s Utilities Director. The video (I had to have shot as the city did not record the meeting and all other media was conspicuously absent). I hoped that a plan was developed and money set aside to begin removing this environmental hazard.

It turns out that at least 10% of SRU subscribers drink water through asbestos pipes. There is no plan.  SRU has not told us what filters to buy and these mains will be replaced as they fail. There will be more to come as to why this matters and to how asbestos is a public environmental hazard.

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