Mr Fluffy's toxic asbestos legacy in Qbn

Asbestos removal works conducted at a Mr Fluffy-insulated house in Downer this year (Photo:Katherine Griffiths).
Asbestos removal works conducted at a Mr Fluffy-insulated house in Downer this year (Photo:Katherine Griffiths).

DESPITE a $100 million clean-up and continuing media coverage of the health dangers left behind by the now defunct Mr Fluffy insulation company in Canberra, Queanbeyan is still yet to see any major clean-up action on what remains a potentially deadly public health situation.

An estimated 60 properties in Queanbeyan were filled with the highly dangerous loose fill asbestos insulation installed by Mr Fluffy in the late seventies. However unlike the ACT, where a major, government-funded survey and clean-up program was rolled out in the late eighties, most of the affected houses here remain unaccounted for and untreated.

Queanbeyan City Council will be writing to 11 affected residents this month reminding them about the loose fill asbestos dangers facing pre-1980 houses and their responsibilities to let tradesmen working on their house know about the risks involved.

And Queanbeyan Mayor Tim Overall is again seeking to bring the State and Federal governments to the negotiating table to fund a clean-up in Queanbeyan, following a similar but ultimately unsuccessful attempt made by Council in July 1998.

In a letter sent to federal member Peter Hendy, Cr Overall said the scope and hazardous nature of the situation was well beyond a local government organisation to handle alone.

"Any resolution on this issue in Queanbeyan is well beyond the capacity of the Council, and I would welcome an early meeting with yourself, together with Mr John Barilaro to discuss the matter and proposed representations to the Commonwealth Government," he said.

Queanbeyan Council ran a program in the late eighties encouraging local residents who suspected they had loose fill asbestos insulation in their property to submit it for anonymous testing. Eleven positive results were registered, however an extrapolation of the Commonwealth-funded Mr Fluffy survey in Canberra- which identified around 1 per cent of pre-1980 houses as affected- points to possibly 50 more unidentified properties in Queanbeyan that were insulated by Mr Fluffy.

Cr Overall also met with ACT chief minister Katy Gallagher to discuss the issue, which continues to leave a toxic legacy in Canberra, as well as stretching out to surrounding regional areas where Mr Fluffy traded, including Batemans Bay. State member John Barilaro said he would also lobby the NSW Government on the issue.

"I have written to Federal and State government ministers to seek assistance in managing the issue and whether additional regulatory measures can be introduced," he said. "I will work closely with Queanbeyan City Council, the ACT Government and Federal Government to find a way forward."

However Mayor Overall said that a previous attempt seeking Commonwealth assistance on an asbestos clean-up was quashed back in 2000 when then Prime Minister John Howard sent a reply letter to Queanbeyan Council "indicating it wasn't a Commonwealth responsibility."

Former member for Monaro Steve Whan said the NSW Government has also been previously unwilling to act. He said this issue remained "unfinished business" for him and one of the reasons he was seeking to re-contest the state seat.

"It's a real frustration for me that I wasn't able to do anything for these people when I was in Government, and the reason for that is because the agencies in Sydney say 'well we'll set a precedent' and they worry that it [asbestos clean-up] will spread over into sheet asbestos, which is in millions of houses," Mr Whan said.

"But if the ACT managed to get the Commonwealth to fund clean-up and demolition of those houses in Canberra, than they have to come to the party with the State and do something in Queanbeyan.

"In the ACT there was a program of removal, so people will actually come forward and say 'I think I might have it, come and test it.' Whereas in Queanbeyan they know that if they find it, they'll get no help and all they can do is seal it in and then have the house drop massively in value if they want to sell it.

"The circuit breaker here is that the Federal and State governments- maybe with the local government- have to come to some sort of agreement that for houses that have loose fill asbestos insulation ... they need to provide some money to come in and probably pay for the demolition of those houses in all actuality," he said.