At least one Canberra family is grappling with a family member being diagnosed with asbestosis – the likely result of exposure to Mr Fluffy asbestos which they installed in their home in the 1970s – while other families are having health checks for potential lung damage.
Meanwhile, anger over ACT government inaction on the issue is mounting among Mr Fluffy homeowners who believe their contaminated houses present a sleeping giant of potential cancer cases.
The Mr Fluffy Owners and Resident’s Action Group – which has over 300 members since setting up last month – has provided a “community voice” section on its website to allow victims to express their fears without risking their anonymity.
Catherine (no last name provided) wrote of her experience having Mr Fluffy installed in her home in 1976 after “being assured it was mineral wool and definitely not asbestos. When we decided to extend our home in 1985 and this blue fluffy stuff blew all around the house, we discovered it was asbestos and we became homeless with our four kids for over three months while the asbestos was partially removed and the rest sealed into the roof cavity.”
The home was part of the $100 million federal government remediation program in the late 1980s. Catherine said the family moved out in 2000 and the house was burnt down in the bushfires of 2003.
“We have recently discovered that one member of the family has asbestosis – some calcification of the lungs – and is waiting to see a pulmonary specialist. We would be very interested in being part of a class action against the Commonwealth government and wonder why there has been no attempt at finding and prosecuting Mr Fluffy for causing such a huge environmental and public health disaster.”
As far as records show, Dirk Jansen, the man responsible for the installation of Mr Fluffy across 1050 homes between 1968 and 1978, died in 2001. It is believed his sons, who installed the trademarked “Asbestosfluf” for their father, moved to the south coast.
The family business was run from Mr Jansen’s Lyons home and according to an advertisement he placed in a 1968 Canberra Times edition, what is now known to be a Class 1 carcinogen was touted as “the perfect thermal insulating material”.
Prices for the installation of Mr Fluffy amosite asbestos were quoted at about $80 for an average 11-square home.
No legal case has ever been brought against the family, as amosite asbestos was not banned until 1989.
Families who are now living with the legacy of Mr Fluffy asbestos have expressed distress at having exposed their children, family members and tradesmen to asbestos over the past several decades and said the situation was a health crisis greater than the Canberra bushfires, which killed four people in 2003.
According to Sarah: “The joy of buying a home after renting and saving hard has evaporated. Pride has turned to deep distress and embarrassment ... It is disgusting that information was withheld by a government not wanting to lower the value of properties and therefore be forced to deal with the issue. They should start caring more about shortening the lives of precious young Canberrans and the danger to the community in general.”
George said “Another bushfire calamity, possibly even worse. The government has to show strong leadership of the highest order to the asbestos industry to not only deal with analysing the problems but equally important working out economically affordable methods to dismantle and remove most of or parts of the houses … Wake up, you people in charge and do stuff.’’
Walter said “My house is a disaster. It was our dream ‘forever’ house. Now if someone gave us a cheque for our purchase price I would give them the keys and walk out with my photos. In my mind all of my possessions and house are now tainted and I don't want any of it. The government's silence on this issue is deafening.”
Tikmurd said “It has been two weeks. How I hope this was just a bad dream! It was my decision buying this house six years ago. I hate myself. I am sorry my son! I am sorry my wife! What shall I do?”
Peter said “My 10-year-old daughter loves having friends over on the weekend. My daughter doesn’t know the complications that we are in as it would break her heart as she would like to live here forever and telling her that we live in a home that is contaminated would devastate her mental wellbeing and state of mind which no 10-year-old should go through.”
Jemima said she had lost friends as a result of disclosing her home’s asbestos history. “Previously a regular visitor, they have not visited since and have avoided me in the school playground. It hurts but I understand that they were worried for their children who also visited. So now besides dealing with our own potential financial losses I also feel like I have to keep it a secret. People say they are jealous of my beautifully renovated home. If they only knew it felt like having an infectious disease.’’