Queanbeyan residents told Mr Fluffy asbestos homes are safe

Asbestos removal works conducted at a Mr Fluffy-insulated house in Downer this year. An unconfirmed number of houses in Queanbeyan, estimated to be around 60, still carry the dangerous loose fill asbestos insulation. (Photo: Katherine Griffiths).

Asbestos removal works conducted at a Mr Fluffy-insulated house in Downer this year. An unconfirmed number of houses in Queanbeyan, estimated to be around 60, still carry the dangerous loose fill asbestos insulation. (Photo: Katherine Griffiths).

Source: Canberra Times

NSW health authorities are still insisting it is safe to live with Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation in the ceiling, despite an increasing number of prohibition notices on homes in Canberra where remnant fibres have been found.

Queanbeyan City Council will write to city's 11 properties on record as having the loose-fill asbestos in their ceilings in the next fortnight to remind them it is there.

One of those properties is a two-storey block of flats with Mr Fluffy asbestos throughout the second storey ceiling cavity - a building that had material falling through cornices when Robson Environmental inspected it two years ago.

But the council is still relying on advice from NSW Health that the homes are safe to live in, as long as the asbestos is confined to the ceiling.

A NSW Ministry of Health spokesman said “the asbestos does not constitute a risk if the structural integrity of the roof space and walls is not breached” and residents do not enter their roof space.

The advice is in stark contrast to the response in Canberra, where people with remnant fibres in their homes after a clean-up 20 years ago are being told to leave their homes.

Asbestos Diseases Foundation president Barry Robson rejected the suggestion living in a Mr Fluffy home could be safe, and said he was surprised at the NSW Health advice.

“While it’s sitting in that roof cavity the fibres work themselves down. The roof cavity is not airtight, as you know, when the wind blows and all the rest of it, it does force that dust to move,”  Mr Robson, also a member of the National Asbestos Taskforce, said.

“The only way is to remove it totally. To be 100 per cent safe it must be removed, it’s as simple as that.”

Mr Robson said Canberra was not over-reacting, rather NSW was “ducking the issue” because nobody wanted to foot the bill for removal.

“It comes down to no one wants to put their hand up for the cost, the cost is what it’s all about,” he said.

Despite calls over many years for the asbestos insulation to be cleaned from Queanbeyan houses, nothing has been done, with no accurate figure even available on the number of homes and buildings affected.

Queanbeyan City Council general manager Gary Chapman said the 11 properties came to light when the residents were offered a voluntary audit of their property around the time of the ACT clean-up.

Queanbeyan mayor Tim Overall has suggested there could be 60 homes, based on a population comparison with Canberra, where 1049 homes were identified.

Mr Chapman said the council also knew of one in Yass and one in the Palerang council area.

Two letters will be sent to each of the 11 properties – one to the house to alert tenants and one to the home owner “reminding” them of the presence of the dangerous material and of the need to alert builders and other tradespeople working in homes.

“The advice from the experts says if the asbestos is contained and people don’t enter the ceiling cavity and are cautious about the work that they do and there is no risk of asbestos leaving the…  cavities then it’s quite safe to continue living in the building,” Mr Chapman said.

The council wanted the state government to clean out the asbestos, but had no public health responsibility or regulatory powers itself, he said.

“Our last involvement with any house is to give people an occupation certificate. Beyond that it’s a matter for themselves,” he said.

“It’s buyer beware. We’ve always said this is no different to when someone has a pest problem … people need to be cautious when they purchase properties, particularly older properties.”

The council would also alert Queanbeyan residents more widely in its next newsletter, Mr Chapman said.

Asked if he was concerned about the material still being in homes, he said: “we are absolutely concerned because I deal with people that live in the city, but the issue where we are hamstrung is neither do we have a regulatory responsibility and the properties are privately owned".

In Canberra, the 1049 homes were cleared of insulation, but it has now been discovered fibres remain in wall cavities and subfloors and in some cases in living areas.

Families are being told seal off rooms and cupboards where fibres have been found, and in some cases are being told to leave.

The NSW issue has been raised periodically over the years, including by former NSW MP Patricia Forsythe who complained in the NSW Parliament a decade ago, saying then the “conspiracy of silence surrounding the existence of the material in Queanbeyan homes… must be ended”.

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