ACT News

Fluffy-insulated residents in Queanbeyan need to get out now, says agency

The NSW government must immediately extend financial support to get families out of at least 12 identified Mr Fluffy homes in Queanbeyan and others testing positive across NSW. So says Peter Tighe, the head of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

Mr Tighe said every day counted in terms of the risk of possible exposure to asbestos, and NSW families were facing the highest known levels of exposure to the deadly amosite fibres.

"It is like swimming in the ocean with a shark nearby. Do you take the risk or do you ring the shark bells and clear the water?" he said.

Mr Tighe refused to be drawn on whether the Commonwealth should speed up its deliberations over financial assistance to the ACT in order to reduce the risk to more than 1000 families affected by the asbestos crisis.

The matter is being considered by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Mr Tighe said it was a judgment call for ACT families to stay in their homes, but he would not allow his family to live in a Mr Fluffy home.

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"I don't think anyone can say that for someone living in a Mr Fluffy house there is a low level of risk," he said.

The fact is, the longer anyone stays in these houses the more likely that risk is going to increase. For residents in Queanbeyan, they really should consider getting out immediately.

It is not acceptable for any authority to sit on its hands.".

The NSW government is conducting an inquiry into Mr Fluffy, due to report back in February. Mr Tighe said it needed to follow the ACT lead in urgently extending financial aid to any families who could not get out of their homes.

On Thursday The Canberra Times revealed expert medical advice delivered to the Commonwealth more than 25 years ago, which warned that one in 1000 lifetime residents of Mr Fluffy homes would die of mesothelioma.

Children were also highlighted as being at increased risk of cancer due to their immature lung tissue.

Mr Tighe said that evidence was outdated and it was now understood that even short periods of exposure to medium concentrations of amosite could lead to mesothelioma.

"We know now that even a day or a week of medium exposure can lead to mesothelioma, whereas that earlier research was weighted towards exposure over long periods of time. Any clear-thinking individual would understand the longer you stay the greater the risk."

While the 1988 medical advice led the Commonwealth to spend $100 million over five years trying to remove Mr Fluffy from homes, this year it became clear that homes were still contaminated with remnant amosite fibres in roof cavities, walls, sub-floors and living spaces.

But the situation is even worse across the border, where at least 12 Queanbeyan homes, including one unit in a block of flats, have tested positive for Mr Fluffy in its full, original state. Two have been abandoned, one has been privately cleaned and the status of the others is not known. The Heads of Asbestos Co-ordination Authorities is currently testing suspected homes in NSW, and a number of new positive results are expected to be confirmed shortly.

The official NSW health advice remains that Mr Fluffy homes are safe as long as the roof is sealed and fibres remain undisturbed.

But the 25-year-old advice clearly stated the risk of material escaping through roof tiles and internal cracks, and it had already been established in the 1980s that fibres had made their way into the living areas of Canberra homes.

In July, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher announced a $5-million emergency package to families forced out of their homes once they tested positive for asbestos in their living areas.

According to the Asbestos Response Taskforce, 47 ACT families are currently accessing the $10,000-per-family and $2000-per-child package.

To date, 941 emergency payments totalling $1.775 million have been made. This includes help with temporary and short-term accommodation; replacement of essential items disposed of on the advice of asbestos assessors; and reimbursement for asbestos assessments.

Mr Tighes said the NSW Government had to act now.

"Some people may say it is alarmist, but I think we should be doing everything we know to get people out of there now. I would err on side of caution. So for Queanbeyan residents in particular, that should be to exit stage right."

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