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Dire warning on Mr Fluffy asbestos in Canberra homes

Removing asbestos from a local site.

Removing asbestos from a local site. Photo: Rohan Thomson

ACT home owners whose properties have Mr Fluffy loose asbestos should be forced by the government to have an asbestos management plan - bringing them under the same laws that govern all commercial buildings, workers' advocates say.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union is preparing a formal recommendation to the ACT government to legislate that Canberra's 1050 Mr Fluffy homes be subject to much stricter safety measures.

Last month the government issued a ''recommendation'' that home owners have an asbestos inspection done and that the inspection report should be shown to any tradespeople working on the home.

Residential asbestos management plans could cost about $1000. Management plans are mandatory in commercial buildings, where it is an offence not to have one or not to keep it updated. All building work must comply with the plan or owners risk fines or even jail sentences.

Union secretary Dean Hall said tradespeople were playing Russian roulette every time they started work on a home as they depended on the honesty and ethics of home owners to reveal whether Mr Fluffy loose amosite asbestos had been installed in the 1970s.

A spokesman for acting Workplace Safety and Industrial Relations Minister Katy Gallagher said the government was ''happy to consider sensible, effective and practical proposals to enhance safety in relation to asbestos''.

It has already sought advice on ''the development of a package of measures - which may include legislative amendments - to ensure that tenants and persons engaged to do work on houses built before 1980 are aware of the potential risks posed by Mr Fluffy asbestos''.

''Such measures are currently the subject of consideration, including with the ACT's Asbestos Regulators Forum, and advice will be provided to government shortly,'' the spokesman said.

Even though $100 million had been spent over five years from 1987 forensically cleaning the roof cavities of 1050 homes which had the insulation, it is becoming increasingly clear that remnant asbestos poses significant public health risks across Canberra.

This follows on from ACT Worksafe opening a major investigation on a Pearce home which was revealed this month to be contaminated with significant amounts of remnant loose asbestos which had been released during a renovation.

Inspectors determined that the renovation was not being carried out safely, and the builder engaged for the work may have been unlicensed. No documents for development approval had been found.

Both the home owners and the builder knew it was a Mr Fluffy house and children were living in the home during the renovation.

Fibres were found on furniture, windowsills, the floor and in the vacuum cleaner. Amosite asbestos is a type 1 carcinogen.

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said it appeared to be a ''flagrant'' abuse of safety protocols.

He said he would crack down on any home owners or builders who knowingly put themselves and others at risk with unauthorised and unsafe work, noting home owners could be in breach of the ACT's Dangerous Substances Act and could be prosecuted, with a maximum fine of $165,000.

Builders could also be liable for prosecution, and in their case the fine could, in extreme cases, be more than $1 million, with the prospect of a jail sentence.

Mr Hall said the ACT government could not wait any longer to introduce strong public safety protocols in the affected houses.

Builders needed professional protection for health and financial reasons. The considerable costs associated with safe and licensed asbestos handling and removal meant that there was always the potential that ''cowboy'' operators could undercut those tradespeople wanting to follow the rules.

''Until they legislate that all of these homes have to have management plans, there is the risk that the responsible tradespeople are going to be put at a commercial disadvantage to those who are going to scrape this stuff from the walls, chuck it in a plastic bag and dump it in a park, which is what we have seen happening for decades.''

''Why has it happened? Because people take the cheap option. Until there are commercial penalties for not having a plan in place then tradespeople will continue to carry an unacceptable risk,'' Mr Hall said.

9 comments

  • Everyone blames my Husband !
    But WHO left those "remnants" ? -
    "Even though $100 million had been spent over five years from 1987 forensically cleaning the roof cavities of 1050 homes which had the insulation, it is becoming increasingly clear that remnant asbestos poses significant public health risks across Canberra."
    Mr Fluffy didn't do that $100,000,000.00, so-called "forensic" clean-up.
    Forensic might relate to the 1987-91 Finding processes. The word you are groping for might be "incompetent" ?
    Now have you heard about the health risks of fibreglass Pink Batts ...

    Commenter
    Mrs Fluffy
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    March 31, 2014, 12:16PM
    • yes I am confused by the article. Should the headline be "GOVT ASBETOS CLEANUP DEBACLE - MILLIONS WASTED ON FAILED DECONTAMINATION"?

      Commenter
      Al
      Location
      O'Connor
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 2:00PM
    • So how do you think they cleaned the wall cavities mr brainiac ???
      The only way to get rid of it 100% is to do a full demo, end of story.... The asbestos was blasted in to the roofs not placed up there neatly....

      Commenter
      Really
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 4:36PM
    • Dear Really

      Do you have to be offensive? Claims made at the time were that the problem was fixed (I know – I was living here). How can others know that, assuming your opinion is correct, the job wasn’t done properly?

      Back to the subject - does that mean that the ‘$100,000,000.00, so-called "forensic" clean-up’ was a farce? Was all the time and effort on the ceiling space (including painting to stick the remaining asbestos fibres in place) whilst leaving the cavities untreated a farce? Couldn’t they have vacuumed out the cavities (as per the ceiling spaces) and inserted spray nozzles on the end of long rods to coat the wall cavities? Apparently not.

      I wonder which group organised that fiasco. Oh – that’s right –Labor in both Federal and ACT governments. Surprise - surprise. Can’t Labor get anything right?

      Commenter
      John
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 7:16PM
  • With the amount of asbestos in the environment we should all be sick. I smell a rat, there is clearly a lot of money to be made to 'keep us all safe", sick of hearing the hysteria around the spectre of a material that was used almost everywhere yet has only been responsible for some high exposure industry sickness, probably no more than coal or silica or wood-dust. Keen to hear the real stats, not the shock horror ones.

    Commenter
    Round we go
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    March 31, 2014, 4:22PM
    • Regardless of how little one may be exposed to asbestos, it is a killer. As a refrigeration mechanic I due to ignorance id the 1950/60/70s was exposed to asbestos. In 1992 I was diagnosed with having five lesions of asbestosis. The fact I’m still alive is because I never used tobacco and actively avoided passive smoking. Even though one third of my lungs are badly affected by it and I find it difficult to breath. On top of the misery I was also robbed by unscrupulous Lawyers who handled my case between 2002/3.

      Commenter
      Dinka
      Location
      Adelaide
      Date and time
      March 31, 2014, 4:51PM
      • Regardless of how little one may be exposed to asbestos, it is a killer. As a refrigeration mechanic I due to ignorance id the 1950/60/70s was exposed to asbestos. In 1992 I was diagnosed with having five lesions of asbestosis. The fact I’m still alive is because I never used tobacco and actively avoided passive smoking. Even though one third of my lungs are badly affected by it and I find it difficult to breath. On top of the misery I was also robbed by unscrupulous Lawyers who handled my case between 2002/3.

        Commenter
        Dinka
        Location
        Adelaide
        Date and time
        March 31, 2014, 4:53PM
        • This all happened when the insulation was a legal product and at a time when the ACT was "owned" by the Federal Government. As such, all costs should be borne by the Federal Government (but please - don't try and blame this, like everything else, on Tony Abbott). This is entirely consistent with other scenarios where the perpetrator of the problem can be traced and accessed.

          Commenter
          John
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          March 31, 2014, 5:17PM
          • There should be a publicly available list on the internet of all Mr Fluffy houses. Everyone's safety is a higher priority than privacy. If people need to be compensated for loss of value to their properties then this needs to happen.

            Commenter
            Bob
            Location
            Canberra
            Date and time
            March 31, 2014, 7:32PM
            Comments are now closed

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