Release of Mr Fluffy list creates anxiety for the territory's tradies
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Release of Mr Fluffy list creates anxiety for the territory's tradies

Thousands of tradespeople across the territory will get confirmation they could have been exposed to toxic loose-fill asbestos as the list of Mr Fluffy houses is made public for the first time.

The list, which has until today been fiercely guarded by the ACT government, will show all 1022 homes that were insulated with the Mr Fluffy fibres in the 1970s.

Electrician Paul Callaway in the roof space of a home in Weston. He says he has no doubt been in Mr Fluffy homes during his 20-year career.

Electrician Paul Callaway in the roof space of a home in Weston. He says he has no doubt been in Mr Fluffy homes during his 20-year career.Credit:Graham Tidy

Workers who have spent their careers climbing in subfloors and roofs putting in gas heating, downlights, vents, fans and carrying out house extensions have never before known which properties contained the substance.

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But from Wednesday, tradies who have worked in Canberra homes since the 1970s will get access to the list of homes that have been termed ticking time bombs by asbestos experts.

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe says he fully supports the release of the list.

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe says he fully supports the release of the list.Credit:Rohan Thomson

The ACT government has played down the threat to the health of tradies in the territory and said the risk of exposure when working on the homes was likely minimal.

The Asbestos Response Taskforce has advised that short periods of exposure to loose-fill asbestos carried a low risk of developing asbestos-related illness and the risk was lower if workers were wearing personal protective equipment.

Tradespeople are being encouraged to check the list and record their details with the taskforce if they have worked in one of the affected homes.

ACT work safety commissioner Mark McCabe said he fully supported the release of the Mr Fluffy list because it allowed people to see if they'd lived in or worked on one of the affected houses.

His advice to those concerned about being exposed to the substance was to visit a doctor.

"The main risk from these houses is the people who are living in them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year – tradesmen tend to only be there for only short periods," Mr McCabe said. "I think in the vast majority of cases, if not almost all cases, that risk will be extremely small but people need to understand what the risk is and they need an expert like a doctor to give them that advice."

He said the likelihood of people being exposed to the loose-fill asbestos depended on the nature of the work they were doing, not the trade itself.

Electrician Paul Callaway said when he started as an apprentice about 20 years ago there had been no talk about asbestos, let alone the Mr Fluffy operation.

He said there was some anxiety in the industry because tradies had no knowledge of the substance when they worked on potentially affected houses.

"You wouldn't know if you have or you haven't and what do you do, sit around and wait for 30 years to see if you're going to get it?" Mr Callaway said.

"It's one of those things, you could worry about it all day if you wanted to but there's nothing you can do about it."

He said he had been in so many roofs and subfloors during his career that he would have undoubtedly been in Mr Fluffy homes but he would not be able to recall exact addresses to check them off the list.

"It's scary the amount of people who could potentially be affected by it," Mr Callaway said. "It was one of those secrets that shouldn't have been kept."

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People seeking information from the ACT Asbestos Response Taskforce can use these contacts.

Phone: 13 22 81
Visit: act.gov.au/asbestostaskforce
Email: asbestostaskforce@act.gov.au
Facebook: facebook.com/ACTAsbestosResponseTaskforce
Twitter: @TaskforceACT
People who are anxious or concerned can access support through their GP, ACT Medicare Local on 6287 8066, Lifeline (13 11 14) and Beyond Blue (1300 224 636)

Meredith Clisby is the Editor of the Sunday Canberra Times

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