ACT News


Mesothelioma claims the life of Canberra electrician

John Jorritsma died of mesothelioma on Wednesday after spending a career as an electrician drilling through asbestos sheeting and crawling through Mr Fluffy homes.

Having watched his brother die of mesothelioma six years previously, Mr Jorritsma spent much of the last few years of his life in a state of agitation about the level of exposure tradespeople suffer in Canberra.

Most of all, Mr Jorritsma and his wife of 43 years, Stephanie, despaired about the future health of their three sons, all of whom have chosen professions that expose them to asbestos.

They believed tradespeople have been the unwitting victims of the Mr Fluffy crisis as, until this year, most were unaware of the dangers of dealing with remnant loose amosite present in more than 1000 Mr Fluffy homes across the city. The common use of asbestos sheeting across Canberra has also exposed so many to the deadly fibres.

Mrs Jorritsma does not want her sons to suffer as their father did before he died at Clare Holland House.

Adrian is an electrician who took over his father's business, while Michael has a kitchen and bathroom joinery business and David is a mechanical engineer.

''I've begged Adrian in particular to find another business, as a week wouldn't go past where he does not come into contact with a Mr Fluffy house," she said.

Adrian says he feels haunted by asbestos.

''I've watched my uncle die and this week I watched my dad die,'' he said.  ''It is an absolutely horrible way to die.''

His father never smoked and was previously fit and healthy.

Adrian estimates he has worked on as many as 100 Mr Fluffy homes since he joined his father in the trade.

He and his mother recall Mr Jorritsma in his earlier years being quite blase about asbestos risk. But as information about its deadly effects became more widespread, he became more concerned. His brother's death – due to exposure to asbestos brake dust through his work as a motor mechanic – jolted him into action and he had constantly been in his sons' ears about taking care to minimise their exposure.

For Mrs Jorritsma, who will bury her husband next week, the only solution the ACT government should pursue is to safely demolish all Mr Fluffy homes and plough more resources into asbestos awareness and training for all tradespeople and for the families who live in older homes that contain bonded asbestos.

''It will be a huge job to properly demolish these homes and make sure they are disposed of, but what choice does the government have?'' she said. ''We can't go on like this with so many people's lives at stake.''

Adrian has considered changing his career. 

''But where do I go and what do I do?'' he asked.

In the meantime, he believes the government must urgently alert tradespeople to a home's contamination through numerous ways – notices in fuse boxes and warnings at subfloor doors and near roof cavities.

"At least this way we would know what we are walking into. You cannot have too much information where this risk is involved.''

Adrian believed demolition should take place only if home owners did not suffer financial disadvantage – having invested in homes they believed were safe.

"They are not to blame in any of this."