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Asbestos Pipes

Expert Fact Checked

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Jennifer Lucarelli Legal Advisor and Contributor

Until the 1980s, many types of pipes and pipe insulation contained asbestos. Homes, schools and public buildings may all have used asbestos piping. This piping poses asbestos exposure risks for workers, residents and the general public. Asbestos exposure may lead to the development of mesothelioma.


01. Asbestos Use in Pipes

Why Was Asbestos Used in Pipes?

For decades, pipe manufacturers used asbestos in their pipes and pipe wrappings. The mineral was popular because of its heat resistance and affordability. Manufacturers could also easily mix it with other materials. For instance, they often added asbestos to the steel and cement used for pipes. Asbestos as an additive helped prevent corrosion inside the pipes. Some pipes were covered with asbestos for further protection.

Asbestos Pipes History at a Glance

  • Other Names: AC pipes, cast iron pipes, pipe coverings, pipe insulation, pipe jackets, pipelines, transite pipes, water pipes
  • Years of Manufacture: 1920 – 1980
  • Military Use: Barracks, boilers, ships
  • Places Used: Above-ground pipes, homes, plumbing, public buildings, roof piping, underground sewer systems
  • Asbestos Use Banned: Yes
  • Noteworthy Brands: CertainTeed, The Flintkote Company, Johns-Manville, Owens-Corning Fiberglas, U.S. Gypsum Company

Dangers of Asbestos in Pipes

Pipes carry liquids, most often water, from one place to another. The water distribution process also often involves heating water with boilers and other similar machinery.

This high-heat environment led many pipe manufacturers to use asbestos. It was often added to the cement or steel pipes. Plumbing materials containing asbestos were also added to existing distribution pipes that were not originally manufactured with asbestos.

Asbestos Cement vs. Asbestos Steel Pipes

Asbestos-containing pipes were made with either cement or steel.

  • Asbestos cement (transite) had a wide variety of uses in the construction industry, including pipes. Asbestos was mixed into the cement that formed the pipes.
  • Many steel pipes also contained asbestos. Manufacturers added the mineral to melted steel before molding the steel into pipes.

Asbestos cement water pipes were more common. There is a risk of asbestos exposure with either type.

Asbestos insulation, felt wrapping and asbestos coatings on pipes were also common. Both non-asbestos and asbestos pipes may have had asbestos insulation or coatings.

Because asbestos is a versatile material, many pipes manufactured before the 1980s contained large amounts of the mineral. For example, the felt wrapping around a pipe may have contained anywhere from 5% to 50% asbestos. On average, pipe coatings may have had up to 25% asbestos.

Most pipes manufactured after the 1980s do not contain asbestos. But the mineral’s durability means legacy asbestos pipes are still commonplace. As a result, hundreds of thousands of feet of pipeline still contain asbestos. This puts many people, including homeowners and certain workers, at risk of asbestos exposure.

Evidence shows that these pipes may release asbestos into the water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified a threshold of allowable asbestos in water. But some studies show asbestos in the drinking water supply could potentially lead to the development of mesothelioma and other cancers.

Plumbers and other similar occupations have a high risk of occupational asbestos exposure. Their job duties often involve activities that release asbestos dust. For instance, plumbers often repair or replace pipes. This activity involves sawing or sanding the pipe, its coating and its insulation. Asbestos fibers may be released and inhaled by the plumbers.

02. List of Asbestos Pipes

List of Asbestos Pipes

Asbestos pipes were used for water systems in many types of buildings. Examples include factories, government facilities, homes, offices, public spaces, residential buildings and schools. The base material of the pipes may have been supplemented with asbestos. Other asbestos materials, like insulation, may have been added to non-asbestos piping.

Click below to see detailed types of asbestos pipe products:

Some asbestos companies produced pipes made with the mineral. Other companies produced asbestos-containing materials that were used around or with pipes. Many companies also sold asbestos pipe products made by other manufacturers.

03. Pipes & Asbestos Exposure

Who Is at Risk of Asbestos Exposure From Pipes?

The widespread use of asbestos in pipes puts workers and many other people at risk of exposure. In particular, plumbers and pipefitters faced occupational asbestos exposure risks. They may have inhaled or ingested asbestos while performing typical work duties. This includes installing, replacing or repairing asbestos pipes or their coverings.

One study in 1985 assessed the relationship between asbestos exposure, plumbers and pipefitters. Researchers found many participants showed abnormalities associated with asbestos exposure, like pleural thickening.

Workers in related industries, like construction or HVAC repair, also faced these exposure risks. Factory workers may have been exposed when making asbestos pipes and other plumbing materials.

Occupations at Risk of Exposure From Asbestos Pipes

The popularity of asbestos pipes also puts others at risk of non-occupational exposure. For instance, homeowners may be exposed when repairing pipes in their houses. Many older homes and buildings may still contain asbestos.

Asbestos exposure can lead to related diseases, like lung cancer and mesothelioma.

04. Asbestos Lawsuits

Asbestos Lawsuits, Settlements & Other Compensation

People who were exposed to asbestos in pipes may develop mesothelioma. If so, they or their loved ones may be able to file lawsuits against asbestos companies. Mesothelioma lawyers have filed lawsuits against many companies for exposure caused by their asbestos pipes. Asbestos lawsuits have named Honeywell, CertainTeed Corporation and John Crane Inc., among other notable companies.

Compensation Following Exposure From Asbestos Pipes

Successful asbestos pipe lawsuits have resulted in financial compensation for victims. This compensation was secured through jury verdicts or settlements, depending on each case.

  • In 2019, a pipefitter diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma was awarded $10 million. He had filed a lawsuit against CertainTeed Corporation for his exposure. A jury upheld the verdict on appeal.
  • In 2013, a mesothelioma patient filed a lawsuit against four companies. He had been exposed to asbestos pipe insulation while working as a pipefitter. After an appeal, Honeywell was found solely responsible, and he was awarded $8.5 million.
  • In 2019, a pleural mesothelioma patient’s family filed a lawsuit against various asbestos companies. He had experienced asbestos exposure while working as a pipefitter. A jury upheld the verdict on appeal. His family was awarded $4.8 million from John Crane Inc.
05. Asbestos Pipes Removal

Safely Removing Asbestos Pipes

Federal asbestos laws and regulations set various guidelines for safely removing asbestos pipes. Trained and licensed asbestos abatement contractors should handle this process. The general public, like homeowners and business owners, should not attempt asbestos removal themselves.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) outlines criteria for asbestos pipe identification. It also classifies the pipe into specific categories of contamination. Asbestos contractors follow protocol based on the pipe’s contaminant level.

General OSHA guidelines for asbestos pipe removal include:

  • Clean-up and disposal timelines
  • HEPA vacuums
  • How to perform dry clean-ups of dust and debris
  • Instructions for wet methods
  • Number of employees to perform tasks and in which rotation
  • Personal protective equipment (suits, respirators and gloves) for workers
  • Prohibitions against certain saws or compressed air devices
  • Protocol for using glove bag systems

No level of asbestos exposure is safe. But these guidelines may help protect workers from related health risks.