Late last year, the city of Devine, Texas, outside of San Antonio, announced that the asbestos levels in the city’s drinking water exceeded federal limits. In fact, state officials had notified Devine that the asbestos levels had been too high during the first three quarters of 2016.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or EPA has set an upper safety limit, called the Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL, for asbestos at 7 MFL (a scientific measurement). According to the city news release, the EPA has concluded that levels higher than 7 MFL raise health concerns.
Devine levels for the first three quarters of 2016 ranged from a low of 10 MFL to a high of 18 MFL. The city says that this does not constitute an emergency and that the water can be consumed, but that drinking water for many years with excessive asbestos levels could increase the risk of “benign intestinal polyps.”
The city is “researching the issue” and will “address it as soon as possible.” However, the reason for the excessive levels has not been uncovered. News 4 San Antonio cited the mayor as hoping that the high readings are “just a sampling problem, not that the contaminants were there.”
This same article says that some, but not all, Devine residents switched to bottled water because of the crisis. It quoted one young mother as expressing concern about her baby drinking the city water or about herself, as she is pregnant.
Scientific opinion seems fairly sparse about the impact of ingestion of asbestos, as opposed to the known danger of breathing it in. Asbestos fibers that are ingested often pass through the body and are excreted. The U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention states that the few fibers that remain in the body after swallowing asbestos could penetrate stomach or intestinal cells, possibly making it through to the bloodstream, where they could “become trapped in other tissues.”
Still, asbestos is a known carcinogen, which could make anyone wary of drinking Devine’s water.