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Health and equity fears, anger at NSW inaction on Mr Fluffy houses

Queanbeyan Mayor Tim Overall is calling for a ‘remediation’ program for NSW home-owners who have, or might have, Mr Fluffy asbestos in their homes. Remediation would involve buy-backs, demolition of homes and resale of properties, he said.

His call comes in the wake of a mid-November hearing held in Queanbeyan and submissions to the NSW Parliamentary Joint Select Committee on Loose Fill Asbestos Insulation, initiated by Labor MLC Steve Whan.

The committee is hearing of the health fears, anger, frustration and long-term anxiety about loss of income and equity experienced by owners of pre-1980 houses with loose-fill asbestos fibres in the home.

Currently there are 15 properties known to be affected by Mr Fluffy asbestos in Queanbeyan, but on ACT-style estimates the number could be as high as 60 (1% of pre 1980 housing stock). Of the 15 known properties one is a multi-unit development with 38 householders.

Two Bungendore properties were identified in the early 1990s. So far, a firm number of rural or village properties in Palerang and Yass shires have not been identified.

Is this the tip of an iceberg, statewide? One submission with name withheld noted: “My father worked in the building industry in Newcastle NSW during the 1970s. He has a clear memory of loose-fill asbestos being pumped into the roofs of houses.

“He remembers feeling shocked at how this material was blown into insecure spaces i.e. the roof cavity of homes, with no regard for the fact that should a hole open up in the roof it would blow out because it was ‘contained’ only by the roof itself. It was common knowledge that the material used was asbestos.”

A Queanbeyan resident, pleading for action, wrote how owners, friends and guests were unwittingly exposed to a class 1 carcinogen.

We purchased our house in mid-2008. In late June of this year [2014], we received a (first time) notice from the Queanbeyan City council informing us that our house was known to contain loose-fill asbestos fibres.

“We had renovated extensively and, with assistance from friends, entered the roof space on multiple occasions to install down lights, ceiling speakers, exhaust vents, skylights and a solar air-conditioner. In doing so bundles of very visible fibres (fibres so small that you can fit thousands of them on the head of a pin) floated down into the living areas.

“Similar bundles of fibres were often floating around the house either coming through the broken manhole in the laundry, the vents in the double brick wall or from the top of the closet which had a small hole in it to the ceiling. Now when we think back to when the light filtered in through the front room and lit up the small ‘dust’ particles floating in the air, our memories of these times turn from quiet solace to feelings of dread.”

Queanbeyan Council has submitted a detailed history of events showing there are no legal requirements or guidelines in NSW regarding notification from one homeowner to the next or via the real estate industry, or from the state or local government.

From 1997 on, Queanbeyan did unsuccessfully request state assistance to remove asbestos in affected ceilings. A Queanbeyan resident who privately had the asbestos removed for $50,000 testified that anxiety returned when ACT demolitions in 2014 showed the material could travel through walls to subfloors.

Only now are follow-up technical inspections starting through WorkCover. “If further fibres are discovered when we have the house re-tested, all our thoughts and dreams will be shattered, and our retirement plans destroyed,” wrote this resident.

In the 2000s Queanbeyan Council eventually took the position under legal advice that asbestos detection and advice to buyers was a private property matter like inspecting for and removing termites (only more voluntary). There is no NSW law that tradespeople need to be advised, either.

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The full submissions can be found on the parliamentary joint select committee on loosefill asbestos website- specifically at: http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/committee.nsf/V3ListSubmissions?open&ParentUNID=86B1666BC7674BDCCA257D5700808C90

 

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