February 20, 2019

Assessors failed to detect blue asbestos in family's home

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For this young family, the large mortgage on their home has left them in financial limbo – and completely at the mercy of whatever settlement package is offered.

“We are looking down the barrel of facing financial ruin, which, when you are a young family just starting out, is pretty bad,” Mr Ziolkowski said.

The couple has few savings and even struggled to meet the costs of repeated asbestos assessments. Now they are now watching every dollar of the ACT government’s assistance package for families displaced by asbestos, knowing there is nothing in reserve for when it runs out.

The Ziolkowskis are also seeking answers on how their home was contaminated with blue asbestos and whether there are potential legal ramifications given the public health risks of blue asbestos were already well documented at the time it was being installed by Mr Fluffy.

ACT WorkSafe Commissioner Mark McCabe said blue asbestos had been discovered in just three homes in the ACT.

Mr and Mrs Ziolkowski are haunted by the idea their children have been exposed to crocidolite.

Their initiation assessment, undertaken by a Class A licensed assessor shortly after the government’s February warning letter to households, came back clear.

But, after the Ziolkowskis joined the Fluffy Owners and Residents’ Action Group and began discussing the issue with other affected families, they realised no samples had been taken and questioned the validity of the result.

A burst water pipe provided the chance for a second assessment – which also came back clear.

Mrs Ziolkowski said: “I was trying to stay positive that the house was going to be OK, but something inside me felt wrong. I actually felt sick all the time and I would get angry when Jonathan was playing on the floor and getting dusty – a part of me was always asking ‘what if?’ It was this constant sense of unease and stress.”

When her asbestos assessor came to check the repaired pipe, Mrs Ziolkowski asked whether any further testing should be undertaken but was reassured that it was unnecessary.

It was only when she checked her wardrobes and found large gaps in the wall cavities earlier this month that she called her assessor back and asked him to take a sample – which came back positive.

She then sought a second opinion from Robson Environmental, which undertook a forensic inspection. Samples from every room except the kitchen showed the presence of blue asbestos fibres.

Mrs Ziolkowski was at a shopping centre when the taskforce called to recommend the family vacate the home immediately.

“I was so completely hysterical a complete stranger came up to me and offered to take my baby and sit with her and feed her while I was on the phone,” she said. “I don’t have a home any more. We don’t have any possessions. We can never go back.”

The couple is concentrating on keeping calm for their children. But Mrs Ziolkowski is undergoing counselling to manage her grief and is having trouble sleeping.

Mr Ziolkowski is trying to focus on his work as a scientist, in order to protect their vital sole income.

Mr Fluffy Owner and Residents’ Action Group founder Brianna Heseltine said the family’s case raised questions for the government about the reliability of asbestos assessments and the need for a clear risk management strategy.

“I think the government needs to accept that residents are entitled to feel increasingly unprepared to play Russian roulette in their homes,” she said. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. One group member reminded me yesterday that it is his family that bears the exposure risk, not the government, and any delays on a decision about what to do with the homes could prove to be a tipping point.”

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Assessors failed to detect blue asbestos in family's home

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