How the EPA’s Asbestos Ban Affects Water Distribution Companies

Many water systems use a chlorine injection process to disinfect drinking water. This technique has been a standard treatment for decades, providing potable water to the population. However, the federal government released several EPA asbestos regulations in April of 2022 to address health concerns about the chlorine production process. The new rules imposed by the asbestos ban may impact the cost and operation of water treatment plants around the country.

Asbestos and Chlorine Production

While the United States no longer produces asbestos, it imports chrysotile asbestos for chlorine production. Some chlorine plants use asbestos diaphragms to separate the chlorine and sodium hydroxide produced when passing a current through a brine solution. Employees in these plants have an increased risk of illnesses such as mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure. The asbestos ban aims to improve worker safety.

Chlorine and PFAS

Concerns about PFAS are another reason for the EPA ban. Water chlorination does not produce these forever chemicals, but researchers have identified chrysotile asbestos as a source. It is important to note that PFAS do not enter the water supply during chlorination. However, using asbestos in chlorine plants may introduce more harmful chemicals into the environment.

The EPA Ban and Water Distribution Companies

Water organizations have expressed concern about the effects of the new EPA asbestos regulations. They are concerned that the two-year time frame for chlorine production companies to change their methods is insufficient to avoid supply chain issues. They note the irony that regulations around drinking water safety, eliminating a source of PFAS, could result in distribution systems struggling to keep drinking water safe through disinfection.

Water Safety Issues

Providing safe drinking water is a mandate for public utilities, and many water systems rely on chlorine injection for this purpose. While using asbestos in chlorine production has declined in recent decades, it is still actively used in at least nine plants. Eliminating asbestos could disrupt the chlorine supply and lead to shortages. The concern is even more pressing when the production process changes to a non-asbestos model.

Potential Price Increases

Upgrading or retrofitting equipment will increase the cost of chlorine production. This higher price will affect the price of chlorine, increasing the overall cost of water treatment. Most water utilities cannot absorb these additional expenses and will have no choice but to pass the cost on to their customers. This potential price hike is of grave concern for low-income communities.

Other Supply Chain Issues

Chlorine is not only used for disinfection in water distribution companies. As these organizations seek to improve their infrastructure, they often use PVC piping to replace old pipes or expand the system. The production of this material also requires a supply of chlorine. A shortage of chemicals could result in material shortages, slow repairs, and service disruptions.

Moving Toward Chlorine Alternatives

Chlorine shortages could affect water treatment plants across the country. However, one advantage of the EPA asbestos ban is that it could promote the move to disinfection through chlorine alternatives. Other countries have completely switched and used different techniques for cleaning water, sedimentation, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet disinfection. These processes are preferred because they do not involve adding chemicals to the water supply.

SCADA and Water Disinfection

As water systems move to chlorine alternatives, they must update their infrastructure to support a consistent, clean water supply. System Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) technology can play a substantial role in this effort. In water treatment plants, sensors can provide real-time data about water volume, flow rates, and impurity levels. The control components automatically adjust the system when readings are outside acceptable levels. If there is a chronic issue, plant managers will receive an alert, allowing them to respond before a crisis.

Reaping the Benefits of Cloud-Based SCADA

High Tide Technologies helps municipal water collection, treatment, and distribution systems incorporate cloud-based SCADA into their operations. Interacting with SCADA through the cloud allows team members to access real-time data from any location, a perfect solution for companies that cover a broad area. Well-designed SCADA technology promotes consistent performance, intentional maintenance plans, and efficient operations. To learn how SCADA can benefit your system, contact HTT today.