Asbestos-laden water pipes pose safety challenge

Air Springs Supply Pty Ltd

Friday, 22 April, 2016

Australia is facing a multibillion-dollar task over the next decade to repair or replace asbestos-laced cement pipes in our water networks that have reached the end of their lifespan — a job the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) estimates could cost approximately $8 billion.

According to the ABC, the water industry body revealed about 40,000 kilometres of water pipelines contain asbestos cement that is starting to wear out and water utilities are monitoring how they are holding up.

The WSAA said it is leading a project to compile best practice in the disposal of asbestos pipes, particularly with regard to minimising health risks. In a publication on its website the WSAA said: “The water industry ensures that asbestos cement pipes pose no health risk to the water supply and that maintenance, replacement and disposal of all pipes and infrastructure, which may contain asbestos, is carried out safely.

“Risks associated with asbestos relate to airborne fibres. Fibres from pipes can become airborne when a pipe is undergoing works, decommissioning or is damaged. However, all relevant regulations are adhered to when handling asbestos cement pipes under these circumstances, to protect and ensure the health of employees and the public.”[1]

James Maslin, sales and marketing manager for Air Springs Supply, said there are simple, non-destructive and cost-effective solutions which can help with pipeline maintenance needs and ensure the safety of workers.

“The central issue in the pipeline network renewal task is not any health risk from drinking water passing through the pipelines while they are intact, but rather worker safety and community safety during the task of renewal,” said Maslin.

“It is important in this regard that repair and removal technology touches lightly on the affected pipelines and does not contribute to damage or breakage.

“Air Springs Supply is the national distributor for the range of Pronal elastomer inflatable pipe stoppers, lifting cushions, seals, tanks and protection products used by various industries to repair and restore environmentally sensitive services, including pipeline networks.”

Inflatable Pronal stoppers — equipped with bypasses where water supply must be retained while pipeline sections are replaced — are inflated to create a powerful, watertight and non-destructive seal to safeguard maintenance workers and preserve the integrity of networks.

Pronal lifting cushions, meanwhile, provide a way to lift, shift and position old or replacement pipelines even in sandy trenches or on soft surfaces. The cushions (larger versions of which are powerful enough to lift railway locomotives and damaged aircraft) spread their lifting power evenly over a wide area, thus avoiding point loads that could damage an object being lifted or cause instability and breakages.

“Pronal stoppers and lifters have been proven globally to address many environmental issues involving industrial and municipal pipelines of all types, including concrete, cast iron, steel, stainless steel and PVC. The issue of asbestos in cement pipes is not unique to Australia, but common to many countries, including North America and the UK,” explained Maslin.

He said Pronal technology with its high environmental credentials has been demonstrated in Australasia on industrial pipeline networks where their stopping efficiency, light weight and re-usability are useful to manufacturers, miners and other big users of water and process solutions.

“Their affordability and cost-effectiveness has expanded greatly as more are brought into service,” said Maslin. “Their local and global success means that increasing volumes and types are available at even more competitive installation costs than previously. Advantages of scale are also producing a broader range of stock types and sizes to fit pipelines up to 2115 mm inside diameter and custom-produced models over 3000 mm.”

Maslin added that the expanded Pronal ranges available at greater cost-efficiency are particularly timely in addressing the asbestos issue in our public water supply.

[1] Water Services Association of Australia, 2015, ‘Asbestos in the water industry’, viewed 22 April 2016, <>.

Image courtesy of Air Springs Supply.

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