Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilitySouth Texas city warns residents of high levels of asbestos in the drinking water | KABB
Close Alert

South Texas city warns residents of high levels of asbestos in the drinking water

Devine, located about 40 miles southwest of San Antonio, sent a letter to customers about too much asbestos in the drinking water. (Photo: Sinclair Broadcast Group)
Devine, located about 40 miles southwest of San Antonio, sent a letter to customers about too much asbestos in the drinking water. (Photo: Sinclair Broadcast Group)
Facebook Share IconTwitter Share IconEmail Share Icon
Comment bubble

SAN ANTONIO – Leaders of a small South Texas community are warning residents that for nearly a year, the level of asbestos in the drinking water has been too high.

Devine, located about 40 miles southwest of San Antonio, sent a letter to customers, indicating 7 million fibers per liter is the maximum amount of asbestos permitted by federal regulations. City water samples had more than twice the allowed amount: 14 MFL of asbestos in January, 17 MFL in April and 18 MFL in July, according to the letter.

“We're not like the city of Corpus Christi,” said Bill Herring, mayor of Devine, population 4,350. “We were not told by TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) to shut the water off. If it was any danger to the people of Devine, then we would've shut it off.”

TCEQ records reveal one reading in January of 44.3 MFL – more than six times the limit set by the Environmental Protection Agency. In October of last year, two samples tested more than twice the limit. However, in July 2015, all five samples taken registered a negligible amount of below 0.2 MFL.

“We hope it's just a sampling problem, not that the contaminants were there,” Herring said.

The city maintains the water is safe to drink, although the letter mandated by TCEQ includes this health warning: “This is not an emergency. However, some people who drink water containing asbestos in excess of the MCL over many years may have increased risk of developing benign intestinal polyps.”

“Sounds scary, doesn't it?” Herring said. “Benign means noncancerous, intestinal polyps, that's why you have a colonoscopy to check it out, but again, I feel certain that this spike is hopefully caused by just a sampling problem.”


Residents had mixed levels of concern. Some indicated they were buying bottled water or thinking about it.

“I don't want my one-year-old daughter, and I'm pregnant, I don't want to be drinking water with asbestos level that's not healthy, you know. That's not safe,” said Michelle Cashion of Devine.

Others, like Mickie Schulze, are unnerved but still drinking the water.

“Most people are like me. They're pretty level-headed and they understand,” Schulze said. “There are a few people that were like spazzing out because they thought what was going on in Corpus was happening in Devine.”

Some residents were only learning of the concern this week through a story in the local newspaper, Devine News. Cashion said she received the city notice, dated Nov. 28, a week ago.

“How could this be something that is OK,” Cashion said, “that they just can send a letter and say ‘you know, it's not at a healthy level, but we're looking into it but go ahead and keep drinking it for now’?”


A 1996 report from the World Health Organization found most Americans drink water containing asbestos at levels below 1 MFL. The WHO concluded there wasn’t a need to establish a guideline for asbestos in drinking water because “available epidemiological studies do not support the hypothesis that an increased cancer risk is associated with the ingestion of asbestos in drinking-water.”

The Texas Department of State Health Services is less conclusive on its website: “The health effects from oral asbestos exposures are unclear. In some areas where the residents are exposed to asbestos fibers in the drinking water, cancers of the esophagus, stomach, and intestine may be a greater concern. After reviewing the scientific evidence from human experience and animal testing; however, health authorities are still unsure of asbestos links to cancer in the digestive system.”

Mayor Herring said the city of Devine is working to find a solution, although it hasn’t yet identified the cause. He doesn’t believe asbestos water pipes are the problem.

“There’s many theories of why it happened,” he said. “All of them are good. All of them are incorrect. We just don't know. I don't want to come across that we don't know what caused it, but that's the truth. We don't know what caused it.”


The city provided Fox San Antonio with documentation that appears to show partial results from the latest round of water testing in October. Ismael Carrillo, the city’s director of public works, said the lab reports show results from four of the five homes that are tested each quarter. The fifth, he said, hadn’t yet been received. The asbestos levels ranged from 2.8 to 5.1 MFL, which is below the EPA’s 7 MFL maximum.

A TCEQ spokesman said no one was available to answer questions Friday.

“The next step is to keep trying to find the problem and then work out a workable solution,” Herring said. “No matter what the cost, we will solve the problem.”

The last asbestos spike in Devine, according to TCEQ records, was in March of 2012. Two of the five samples tested just below the EPA maximum, and the other three ranged from 17.4 to 24 MFL, more than three times the amount of contamination permitted.

All water samples tested from summer 2012 to summer 2015 registered below the EPA’s maximum level of asbestos.

Mayor Herring has lived in Devine his entire life and says he’s still drinking the water.

“Of course, yeah, I'm standing. Yeah, I'm fine.”

@MichaelLocklear |

Comment bubble

Loading ...