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Nearly a third of Saskatoon's water-main networks contain asbestos, CTV News investigation finds

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Nearly a third of Saskatoon's water-main networks contain asbestos, according to data uncovered by the investigative team at CTV News' W5.

W5 found that 351 kilometres — 29 per cent — of water-main networks are made up of asbestos cement pipes.

While the verdict is still out on the risk posed by drinking water that contains asbestos, some research suggests ingesting the fibres could increase a person's risk of stomach and other gastrointestinal-related cancers.

“We are constantly getting more and more evidence,” Arthur Frank, a physician and professor of public health at Drexel University told W5.

"Some of it going back 50 years, but more and more evidence that it can cause gastrointestinal tract cancers," Frank said.

The location of asbestos cement water mains in Saskatoon, according to a map provided by the city. (CTV News)

Since Health Canada says there is no consistent evidence drinking or ingesting asbestos is harmful, there is currently no limit on how much can be in drinking water.

"If you drink water containing asbestos fibres, you eliminate the fibres, mostly through feces," the agency says on its website.

Health Canada says "there is no consistent, convincing evidence that asbestos ingested through water is harmful to your health."

Julian Branch, a Regina-based former journalist who is now an activist says there’s a "complete and utter lack of political accountability."

"Until asbestos is regulated in Canadian water, Canadians should be very concerned about their drinking water," Branch told W5.

On its website, the City of Saskatoon makes no secret about the fact that some water lines contain asbestos and cites Health Canada's guidance.

"There is no health concern with the use of asbestos cement water mains in the city's distribution system," the city's website says.

The city also notes that Saskatchewan's Water Security Agency does not require asbestos testing as part of Saskatoon's operating permit.

In a statement to CTV News, the city's water director Russ Munro also noted that "asbestos is only a health concern if the fibers are disturbed and they become airborne."

On Monday, when asked about the issue by CTV News, Saskatoon mayor Charlie Clark also pointed to Health Canada's policy.

"They have been doing investigations into this on a repeated basis and have said there is not a threat to the water supply," Clark said.

"We're trying to follow and understand the science on this as well as we are making unprecedented investments in our water mains," Clark said, referencing work underway to replace the remaining lead service lines in the city's water system.

"It's a challenge and not something that can be solved overnight, but we are wanting to ensure that people realize that we have one of the best water supplies in North America."

--With files from Eric Szeto and Tyler Barrow

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