ACT News

Nightmare awaits inside a Mr Fluffy roof space

NSW homeowners are being warned not to be complacent about the risks of loose asbestos insulation.

A three-bedroom home in Queanbeyan has been described as a "potential death trap" by the head of the federal Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Peter Tighe.

The home is one of 14 properties in NSW – 12 in Queanbeyan the others in Orange and Yass – confirmed to contain loose amosite asbestos insulation installed by Canberra operator Mr Fluffy during the 1960s and 1970s.

Robson Environmental's Ged Keane has questioned the current advice by the NSW government.
Robson Environmental's Ged Keane has questioned the current advice by the NSW government. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Meanwhile, 225 NSW homeowners have registered for free WorkCover asbestos testing across 20 local government areas, with ceiling insulation samples to be collected from these homes starting next month.

Unlike the more than 1000 Canberra homes that contained Mr Fluffy insulation and were part of a $100 million Commonwealth clean-up during the early 1990s, the NSW homes were not part of the remediation program and an unknown number still contain all of the original loose asbestos – a Class 1 carcinogen.

Mr Tighe said video of an inspection by Ged Keane, the manager of hazardous materials and laboratory services for Canberra firm Robson Environmental, showed clear evidence of contamination and called into question advice by the NSW government.

In its latest notice on Mr Fluffy, NSW WorkCover advises homeowners "exposure is likely to be very low if the asbestos is undisturbed and remains sealed off at all points where entry of asbestos into living areas can occur".

Homeowners are told not to undertake any refurbishment work that requires alteration to any walls or ceilings and to avoid accessing their subfloor areas.

But Mr Tighe said the video showed the likely presence of amosite in the living areas through ill-fitting light switches and open cable holes in the ceiling, which "are probably very typical of a lot of these Mr Fluffy homes".

He said the issue was a mounting public health concern.

"I would ask would the Minister for Health [Jillian Skinner] or departmental secretary [Dr Mary Foley] be happy to live in that residence with their family? If they say yes, they are lying."

Mr Keane also confirmed the home was not safe and suggested any NSW home that still contained its original Mr Fluffy insulation would be similarly unsafe. "You can fit millions of fibres on a 50 cent piece, so it doesn't bear thinking about."

Even the "cleaned" Canberra homes still contain dangerous remnant particles and are currently slated for demolition once an ACT government and Commonwealth cost agreement has been reached.

The owners of the Queanbeyan home said they were devastated by the lack of action on Mr Fluffy by the NSW Government both historically and in light of current action in Canberra.

The couple bought the home in 2008 without any disclosure of its asbestos contamination because there is no legislation in NSW requiring that. (The ACT's Dangerous Substances Act that requires asbestos information be included on the building files of remediated Mr Fluffy homes.) They renovated extensively over four years, exposing themselves to the amosite in the process, before moving to another home and renting the property out.

The couple, who do not wish to be identified, said the recent confirmation their home contained amosite had come "as a massive shock" and they have taken the property off the rental market.

"We could not allow anyone else to live in this home, so we've decided the buck stops with us."

Mr Tighe said this was a commendable decision, but other homeowners could not be relied upon to be so ethical and there were no legal safeguards for unsuspecting buyers.

"There is a dangerous lack of legislative protections for homeowners and the public in general when it came to Mr Fluffy homes across NSW," Mr Tighe said.

"I think the issue deserves urgent attention."

Fluffy Owners and Residents' Action Group founder Brianna Heseltine said it was time for the NSW and Commonwealth governments to deliver equality across the border for the people of Queanbeyan – who had been locked out of the $100 million removal program 20 years ago.

"We urge the NSW government to provide financial assistance for Queanbeyan residents who might be displaced from contaminated homes as in Canberra, and to formulate a buyback and demolition scheme. We know of 12 Queanbeyan properties, but reports suggest there may be around 60, which are hidden in the landscape, posing a potential health risk to their unwitting occupants," she said.