NSW authorities have expanded their asbestos search yet again after the discovery of a house in Orange confirmed to have contained loose-fill asbestos insulation before it was demolished two or three years ago.
To date, 199 homeowners in NSW have registered to have their insulation tested, with testing to begin in about a week. The requests are showing a pattern of concern around Wagga Wagga, where 41 homes so far are down for testing, with homeowners in Yass, Queanbeyan, Ku-ring-gai on Sydney's north shore, and Cooma also coming forward in significant numbers.
The Orange house is the first confirmed to have contained the asbestos insulation outside Canberra, other than the 14 that have been known about for some years, most in Queanbeyan. It widens the area in which loose-fill asbestos insulation was used in NSW, and gives weight to suggestions that companies other than Canberra's Mr Fluffy might have installed the dangerous insulation.
Orange is now included in the list of search areas, with Albury, the Crookwell area and Lithgow also added to the mix, bringing to 20 the number of local government areas in NSW offered testing. The scheme is voluntary, with homeowners invited to come forward and request the tests.
Heads of Asbestos Co-ordinating Authorities chairman Peter Dunphy, who leads the NSW investigation, said the Crookwell area had been added after a request from the local council, and Albury and Lithgow because of newspaper reports and advertisements from the time – the 1960s and 1970s – suggesting an asbestos insulation installer had been active in the areas.
Authorities still expected only a small proportion of tested homes would prove to contain asbestos insulation, with other kinds of loose-fill insulation also in homes and difficult to distinguish from asbestos on sight, he said.
NSW is still working out what to do with houses identified. Given the results of Canberra's clean-up, it is not considering removing the material, but is looking at demolition or managing the insulation in place. It is testing homes to check asbestos levels in living areas. But councils are wrestling with questions such as ensuring homes containing asbestos are not sold without disclosure and not renovated without safety precautions, and with who is responsible for contamination and clean-up in the event of fire.
Fourteen search areas were announced in mid August. Within a fortnight two more had been added, and now four more.
The Yass council met with Workcover on Wednesday and asked authorities to consider making the testing compulsory for all pre-1980 homes, as was done in Canberra, a call so far rejected by NSW.
The requests for tests are as follows:
Wagga Wagga 41
Yass Valley 29
Cooma Monaro 21
Bega Valley 10
Young Shire 7
Snowy River 7
Goulbourn Mulwaree 6
North Sydney 6
Palerang (around Braidwood) 5
The 25 Queanbeyan requests come on top of 12 properties already identified in the town, one of which had the asbestos removed by the owners some years ago, and another of which is a two-storey block of 38 units.
The Yass council has written to the owner of the only home identified so far, but has not heard back, the council confirmed.
The local government areas where testing is offered are: Greater Hume, Berrigan, Albury and Wagga Wagga council areas towards the Victorian border, the Bega Valley, Snowy River, Cooma Monaro and Eurobodalla council areas on the south coast; the Snowy Mountains, Palerang (including Braidwood and Bungendore), Queanbeyan, Yass Valley and Goulburn councils around Canberra, the Young, Upper Lachlan and Boorowa areas, Orange, Lithgow, Ku-ring-gai and North Sydney.