Hundreds of thousands of historical documents relating to Mr Fluffy asbestos have been quarantined for the past few months due to the presence of amosite filed in ACT government archives.
ACT Asbestos Response Taskforce head Andrew Kefford confirmed that a sorting and decontamination process had started earlier this month to "clear" files of potential contamination with a Class 1 carcinogen.
The taskforce had pulled files, in which a small bag of grey fibres was included, from the archive last year. The bag's contents later tested positive for amosite.
Mr Kefford noted that it was double bagged and no one was exposed in the process, but it was then necessary to put in place a protocol to check every box of files for further samples in order for the taskforce to access them.
Only one positive result has been found so far.
"Early on in the life of the taskforce when we started looking at removal files, we found the sample that came back positive and we realised that yes, we need a more structured approach. We don't want to be ripping open boxes of files and spreading amosite all over our desks."
Mr Kefford said that a small number of people – under 10 – had been unable to receive their home's asbestos removal file or receive historical reports relating to the Mr Fluffy program through the freedom of information process as a result of potential contamination.
Back in 1983, as the Commonwealth was deliberating whether to commit to a removal program across more than 1100 Mr Fluffy-contaminated homes, the unions called on homeowners to take their own samples and mail them in.
Both the Australian Building Construction Employees and Builders' Labourers' Federation placed an ad in The Canberra Times asking homeowners who were unsure about their insulation to "collect a small sample in a plastic container and send it to the Capital Territory Health Commission".
Mr Kefford said that while many samples had already tested as harmless, some amosite had been caught up in government archives handed over from the Commonwealth when the ACT achieved self-government.
"Any samples found have been found bagged, in sealed containers or as part of sealed slides. We do not believe there has been a risk during the storage process."
All documents were stored in the Recall data management storage facilities in Fyshwick
Earlier this month, a number of boxes began being sorted in a special room at the ACT government mailroom in Mitchell , which has separate airconditioning units to handle potential contamination.
Worksafe was called in to approve the process, train staff in asbestos handling and ensure they were wearing the appropriate masks and protective clothing.
Given there were thousands of files containing hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper, Mr Kefford said the process may take a couple of weeks to complete.
He was keen to access the files himself.
"We have had a lot of reportage on those early documents, and there are accepted views around what was said and thought at the time, but it will be interesting to see them for themselves. Not that I think we will find anything that would change our current perspective on our current course of action."
He also accepted that the historical files – some dating back to 1968, when Dirk Jansen first began operating his Mr Fluffy amosite insulation business – would be important in the event of a formal board of inquiry.
The Legislative Assembly's Standing Committee on Public Accounts recommended a board of inquiry in December – to reveal successive governments' handling of the Mr Fluffy legacy.
It was deferred while the government rolled out its $1 billion buyback and demolition scheme.
"A board of inquiry is a matter for the government to call if and when it feels it is the right time. But they will be able to access all the historical documents," Mr Kefford said.
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