New method for dealing with underground asbestos concrete pipe

A Florida-based contractor has proposed a new method of replacing existing asbestos concrete water and sewer pipes. Such underground pipes are a major health hazard, as exposure to asbestos can lead to the development of asbestosis, mesothelioma and other lung diseases, culminating in wrongful death.

The proposed method avoids the necessity of laboriously digging up the old pipe. The method, referred to as pipe bursting, was endorsed by the Frostproof, Florida City Council recently, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reportedly is still not sure that the idea is viable and safe.

The pipe bursting technique would replace underground gas, water and sewer pipes made with asbestos by thrusting an expander head underground into the existing pipe and tearing it up. At the same time, they would be threading new pipe in its place. The fractured old pipe is then discarded into the soil surrounding the new pipe.

The alternative, more dangerous method involves digging open trenches to remove asbestos concrete pipes. However, that can release tiny fibers into the air which can adversely affect human health. Doing such digging is cumbersome and expensive, requiring elaborate protective gear and measures for construction workers. The pipe bursting method may avoid much of this, advocates hope, as the fragments of the burst pipe are left in the ground rather than being dug up.

While this may help many avoid new exposure to asbestos, it is of little comfort to the many workers who have had to dig up these underground asbestos pipes in the last 40 years. It can take up to 40 years for a person to show symptoms of asbestos-related diseases such asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

Source:, “Frostproof: City supports pipe bursting for asbestos concrete,” Dec. 2, 2011