The NSW parliament will investigate the extent of Mr Fluffy asbestos contamination in NSW homes, a move that boosts the likelihood of a state-wide hunt for the deadly loose-fill insulation.
The Fluffy crisis is slowly moving to engulf NSW as it has Canberra, with more than 200 NSW residents requesting tests of the loose-fill insulation in their ceilings. On Thursday the Canberra Times released video of an asbestos assessment in Queanbeyan which showed a shocking level of Mr Fluffy amosite contamination in the roof and living areas, described as a "potential death trap" by Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency head Peter Tighe.
Also on Thursday, high-profile law firm Maurice Blackburn, which is considering a class action on Mr Fluffy, called on NSW to widen its testing scheme beyond the 20 areas identified so far, to include anyone in the state with concerns. More than 200 people had contacted the firm to date, from the ACT and surrounding areas, principal and head of asbestos law Theodora Ahilas said.
"Given the problems created by loose-fill Mr Fluffy-type asbestos used in the ACT, testing should be offered for any properties in NSW rather than "cherry-picking" certain council areas, she said. "We do not want to see a repeat of the situation in the ACT where there was a failed remediation process and confusion and trauma for thousands of people. The NSW testing has to be systematic."
The NSW inquiry, chaired by Fred Nile (Christian Democrat) and including members from across the political spectrum, will investigate how many NSW homes might have loose-fill asbestos insulation and where they are.
It will also look at what responsibility owners should have to tell potential buyers, renters, tradespeople and emergency personnel. It will look at the Canberra response and the role of the state government.
Submissions will be called today, Friday, including from the ACT, and be open until the end of October, with the inquiry to report in February. Mr Whan hoped people concerned about Mr Fluffy in their homes or neighbourhoods would come forward and said the committee would invite submissions from local councils and from experts. He hoped it would lead to a change in advice from NSW Health about the safety of living in a Fluffy home.
The official NSW health advice is still that Mr Fluffy houses are safe to live in with the asbestos still in the roof, despite the material being cleaned from Canberra roofs more than 20 years ago. But under pressure as a result of Canberra's drastic action in the past six months, including the likelihood of a mass demolition of the 1000 homes, NSW has now invited owners with concerns in 20 local government areas to have their insulation tested. It is also doing air monitoring and testing in the 14 properties known to contain Mr Fluffy asbestos, 12 of them in Queanbeyan.
But the scheme is voluntary, relying on home owners to come forward and request the testing, and Mr Whan has called for a comprehensive survey to be done, as in the ACT, where all pre-1980 houses were checked for Mr Fluffy.
Mr Whan said he had long been frustrated by the lack of action in NSW.
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said it was good to see NSW ramping up its response to Mr Fluffy homes, and she was pleased at the bipartisan support.
She had written to then former Barry O'Farrell in April and current premier Mike Baird to alert them to the issue following the discovery of extensive contamination in a Downer house demolished last year.
Fluffy Owners and Residents' Action Group founder Brianna Heseltine said the group applauded the step by the NSW Government but owners needed urgent help.
Ms Heseltine said her group — comprising 500 affected Canberra families and seven Queanbeyan owners — called on the NSW Government to "immediately establish crisis assistance measures that match what is available to ACT residents".
This includes a grant of up to $10,000 a household for people advised to leave their home, plus $2000 for each dependant child.
Ms Heseltine said there was no known safe level of exposure to Mr Fluffy "and given this, time is of the essence in ensuring the safety of residents".
"While we applaud the NSW Government moving to draw a line under the Mr Fluffy issue after two decades of neglect, we also point out the urgency of assisting homeowners now."