- Editorial: List will spark grief but past residents need to know
- Mr Fluffy cluster: The streets worst hit
Mr Fluffy asbestos has extended its reach into the most prestigious of Canberra's streets, with five Mr Fluffy homes to be demolished in Mugga Way, and will leave parts of the city scarred. Bulldozers will roll through nine houses in Hawker Street, in Torrens, the street with the most Mr Fluffy houses.
The release of the 1022 Mr Fluffy addresses today and the end of the buyback offer yesterday mark milestones in the asbestos crisis, sparked two years ago when Yarralumla resident Mark Harradine raised the alert.
The addresses are expected to spark a new flood of concern, engulfing a wider group of Canberrans who will learn whether they have rented, owned, worked on or in a Mr Fluffy house, potentially exposing themselves to pure asbestos fibres.
The asbestos taskforce estimates 30,000 people have lived in the homes. While fibres have been found in the living areas of most Mr Fluffy homes, the biggest contamination is in the ceilings, walls and subfloors.
The release of the list reveals the extent of the transformation that will be wrought in many streets, including the most prestigious addresses, Mugga Way and Arthur Circle in Forrest.
Twelve streets contain six or more Mr Fluffy houses.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr blamed pressure from the media for the decision to publish on Wednesday, which he said he deeply regretted. Ultimately the addresses had to be published, but he would rather have waited longer until all of the homes were in government hands. He said he had held out as long as he could out of respect for owners, but with freedom-of-information requests and what he characterised as threats to publish incorrect lists, he could delay no longer.
"In the end, faced with all of the circumstances and the competing interests that this information becomes available, it's better that the government releases it in a controlled format rather than it be a media orgy," he said.
Asbestos taskforce head Andrew Kefford said publication was necessary for administering the buyback, including a register of properties, the planning change allowing Mr Fluffy blocks to be divided, and the new crown leases for cleaned blocks.
Publication would also allow former owners and tenants to join the Australian National University-led health study. But he stressed health risks for most people were low.
"At the end of the day the risks involved in casually visiting a house or even living in a house are low," Mr Kefford said.
"We would encourage a measured response, an informed response to what is at the end of the day a low-risk set of circumstances."
Asked what action cleaners and other workers should take and whether people should feel safe allowing their children to visit Mr Fluffy homes, Mr Kefford said workers should ask to see the asbestos assessment "then talk to the employer, talk to the homeowner". Casual visitors should stay out of the roof and subfloor.
ACT chief health officer Paul Kelly said the risk of low short-duration exposure was "very low, almost zero".
But Mr Kefford said he understood the concern and uncertainty.
"Yes, there is a health risk and that's why we're having this conversion at all. But the buyback scheme was designed exactly because of these social, practical and financial consequences of the continuing contamination of the houses."
The publication of addresses is making owners anxious, with the government's own Mr Fluffy advisory group suggesting a database for people to search specific addresses rather than a full list.
Advisory group member Ron Bell, who heads the Real Estate Institute of the ACT, said the group had written to the taskforce with the suggestion, but the government had been concerned about inaccurate lists already in the circulation and wanted to disclose the full list for transparency. He anticipated "a fair amount of anxiety" with today's release.
Mr Kefford said he understood the concern and was working with distressed residents.
"But I think the decision that the government's taken is one that recognises the wider balance of interests across the community and recognises the benefits of having a wider conversation, because it has affected so many people across the city over the last 50 years," he said. "It stopped being about buildings a long time ago. It's now all about people."
Master Builders Association of the ACT executive director Kirk Coningham said the list should be released for transparency, and would allow densification and rejuvenation of suburbs.
"It's a tough decision but I think probably the only way forward is to get it all out there and get these time bombs in our community out ... so people can get on with their lives," Mr Coningham said. "I think the government's taken the only approach they really could, which is to act."
By Tuesday, the government-owned 599 houses and another 260 owners had accepted offers. Of the remaining 163, all but 12 had requested a valuation or made an arrangement to privately demolish. Of the 12, the taskforce expected some to opt in before midnight on Tuesday, and others had decided to go it alone.
People seeking information from the Asbestos Response Taskforce can use these contacts:
People who are anxious or concerned can access support through their GP, ACT Medicare Local on 6287 8066, Lifeline (13 11 14) and Beyond Blue (1300 224 636).