ACT News

Homes with Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation should be demolished, says safety chief

The head of Australia's federal Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Peter Tighe, said he would not allow his family to live in a home affected by Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation and that Canberra's 1050 Mr Fluffy homes should be ''demolished''.

Mr Tighe also warned state and territory legislation was failing to protect people in their own homes as maximum asbestos exposure levels were enforceable only in a workplace through Work Health and Safety laws.

Workplaces could not contain more than 0.1 fibres per millilitre of air before authorities had to close them down, while homes had no maximum level, he said.

''These Mr Fluffy homes are a ticking time bomb as far as I am concerned. There is no amount of cleaning that can be done to make them safe and I certainly would not allow my family to live in one of them.''

The ACT government has refused to release a list of affected homes because of privacy issues and because of widespread home owner concern it could affect their property prices. But Mr Tighe said incurable cancer was a more pressing issue.

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''In my view, equity in relation to property is nonsense. Someone has to make some decisions and we need a clear understanding of how to resolve this problem.''

The national agency Mr Tighe heads was established last year to address Australia's historic and growing problem of asbestos exposure.

Currently, 700 people die each year as a direct consequence of asbestos exposure, with numbers set to peak in 2022.

Mr Tighe warned there was no safe level of exposure to asbestos, which was a class 1 carcinogen, and that exposure commonly led to the cancer mesothelioma with a lag time of usually between 15 and 25 years.

One of the important functions of the agency was to monitor potential asbestos exposure among members of the community through a new National Asbestos Exposure Register.

Set up last June, it had recorded 529 cases nationally, 29 of which were from the ACT.

Of the ACT cases, 26 reports of exposure were work-related, two were home-related and one other-related, with one of the cases confirmed to have led to a diagnosis of asbestosis.

''We are very keen to get the word out there that this register exists and would encourage anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to get in touch with us.''

Mr Tighe, a former electrician and member of the board of Safe Work Australia, said he had been following developments closely in the ACT as a result of the widespread use of loose amosite asbestos insulation installed in homes during the 1970s.

This presented a very ''unique and serious'' problem.

Mr Fluffy founder Dirk Jansen had caused enormous public health risks through his advertising campaigns and because the Canberra climate meant people sought out cheap insulation.

Asbestos was banned in Australia in 2003.

Mr Tighe said amosite, or friable asbestos, was a particularly dangerous threat because its loose fibres were microscopic and could easily become airborne. ''I believe it is impossible to completely guarantee these homes can be cleaned of all traces of the asbestos,'' he said.

In 1988, the Commonwealth paid $100 million for contractors to forensically clean the roof spaces of affected homes over a five-year period - missing at least four in the process. But the ACT government has since warned homeowners there was no guarantee homes would be completely clear of the asbestos and it was likely to have blown into wall cavities and subfloors

It has recommended appropriate safety checks need to be done to ensure homeowners are not exposed - particularly during renovations.

The majority of homes having certified asbestos assessments over the past two months have tested positive for residual asbestos.

While the ACT government has been pursuing the Commonwealth for costs associated with remediating the homes missed in the original cleaning program - including $2 million spent spent since 2005 - negotiations are believed to be at a standstill.

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