February 20, 2019

ACT Government bans builders from removing asbestos

ACT Government bans builders from removing asbestos

ACT News


The ACT Government has moved to close a loophole that has allowed builders to remove up to 10-square-metres of bonded asbestos from homes, a rule the Government says has been widely misunderstood and abused.

From January 1, any asbestos removal, including bonded asbestos sheeting, must be done by licensed asbestos removalists, who will now come under the control of Worksafe.

Builders were never allowed under the law to remove even 10-square-metres without asbestos training, but Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe said the training requirement was the most widely flouted.

“The 10-square-metre rule is actually significantly misunderstood. Tradesmen think it means they can remove up to 10-square-metres of asbestos without controls, that’s not true,” he said.


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ACT Government bans builders from removing asbestos

Asbestos bombshell: Govt knew about Mr Fluffy risk 25 years ago

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Professor Bruce Armstrong, then Director and Professor of Epidemiology and Cancer Research at the NHMRC, wrote to the ACT Administration to “confirm and amplify” advice he had delivered to its Asbestos Taskforce which was handling the removal program pre self-Government.

Professor Armstrong acknowledged at that time it was already clear that Mr Fluffy had escaped from some roof cavities and had entered living spaces of a number of Canberra homes.

Using guidelines developed by the United States Research Council Committee on Nonoccupational Risk of Asbestiform Fibres, Professor Armstrong said the risk of mesothelioma or lung cancer for an average Australian over a lifetime was 26 deaths per million people.

But the risk to people living in homes with Mr Fluffy insulation skyrocketed to 650 deaths per million people.

“That is about 1 in 1000 lifetime residents would die in consequence of their exposure to asbestos in one of the affected houses. It should be noted that the National Research Council’s estimates were based on exposure to mixed asbestos fibres including chrysotile which carries a lower risk of mesothelioma than does amosite. Thus the risk in the Canberra houses would be likely to be greater than the above estimates would suggest.”

Professor Armstrong recommended the expeditious removal of the asbestos “from roof spaces as well as whatever asbestos had accumulated in the living spaces”. He also noted that residents would experience anxiety if they believed themselves to be exposed to asbestos.

In a separate report prepared by the former Chairman of the Occupational Health Guides Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council Dr David Douglas, children were a primary concern in terms of the need to remove Mr Fluffy from homes.

“Children are at are at particular risk because of the susceptibility of developing lung tissue to damage; and because of the long latent period during which changes can occur,” said Dr Douglas, a former Head of Scientific Policy for the United Kingdom Health and Safety Executive.

“In spite of difficulties in quantification, I would expect to see a measurable excess of asbestos-related disease in the occupiers,” he said.

Dr Douglas said the Mr Fluffy issue was “a public health asbestos problem far greater than any documented elsewhere in the world” and the levels of exposure to deadly fibres by the men who were hired to install Mr Fluffy by operator Dirk Jansen – including his sons – were “likely to have been as high as any ever recorded”.

Dr Douglas noted that occupiers of Mr Fluffy homes he had interviewed had “expressed anxiety not only about suffering an asbestos disease, but also the fear of asbestos disease and about their concern and frustration at their housing predicament.”

“Anxiety and fear are major causes of disability. The levels of both will rise the longer people continue to live in the asbestos insulated homes.”

Fluffy Owners and Residents’ Action Group founder Ms Heseltine said the passage of time had done nothing to change the nature of these risks faced by more than 1000 homeowners.

“I don’t see too many options here for the ACT, NSW and Commonwealth governments. They either decide that there is an acceptable death toll among the Mr Fluffy owner and resident population, or they come together to eliminate the risk.”

She said the 25 year-old advice was particularly heartbreaking in the case of Queanbeyan homes, which have never been remediated.

“It defies belief that the NSW Government has not revised its position that fibres do not pose a threat if left undisturbed. Dr Douglas’ report clearly states that material can escape through the tiles, and that wind and water damage and fires could result in high levels of exposure”, she said.

Ms Heseltine said anxiety and stress levels were “off the charts” in the owner and resident population in Canberra and Queanbeyan as people awaited a government decision on their homes.

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Asbestos bombshell: Govt knew about Mr Fluffy risk 25 years ago

Loose asbestos home insulation fears

Deadly loose asbestos present in a large number of houses in Canberra may also be in some south-west homes.

The Canberra-based Mr Fluffy company insulated about 1000 homes in the national capital with the product in the 1960s and ’70s. It was applied by blowing the loose fibres into roof and wall spaces.

Despite a removal program asbestos fibres have now been found to have infiltrated living spaces, posing a health hazard and leading to houses being abandoned.

A long-time south-west resident has recalled there was a Mr Fluffy agent operating in the Warrnambool area about the same time.

The Standard has since contacted a number of long-time residents and confirmed there was an agent operating in the area.

One recalled a door-to-door salesman calling at his parents’ Grassmere farm trying to sell the product. They didn’t, but said it was installed in at least one house in the Grassmere area.

It is unknown whether the Mr Fluffy businesses were linked or if the product was the same as that installed in Canberra houses.

Other blow-in products have been used, including shredded paper treated with a fire retardant chemical, and wool.

South-west asbestos removal professionals said they had not encountered loose-fill asbestos in the region.

Warrnambool licensed asbestos removalist Andrew Morrison said he had not come across the Mr Fluffy product in the seven years he’s been in the business, or in the couple of years he worked for another operator.

“I have seen some blow-in products but I haven’t seen asbestos,” Mr Morrison said.

“That doesn’t mean it wasn’t used in the area.”

Fourteen NSW councils are also investigating if the product was used in their areas.

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Loose asbestos home insulation fears

Asbestos discovery closes Dickson businesses

WorkSafe ACT inspectors will carry out further testing to determine the extent of the exposure.
ABC WorkSafe ACT inspectors will carry out further testing to determine the extent of the exposure.

The discovery of asbestos fibres in a commercial building in Canberra’s inner-north has forced the shut down of several businesses.

Tests carried out by WorkSafe ACT on Thursday confirmed the presence of the potentially deadly fibres in a commercial building backing onto Woolley Street in Dickson.

Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe says it appears fibres are coming from the roof which is constructed of compressed asbestos.

“The fibres are collecting in the enclosed space of the businesses which are below that,” he said.

“Although their not coming down in great quantities, because they’re collecting there and people are walking about, that disturbs it and pushes those fibres up into the air and that’s when there’s a risk of people inhaling it.”

The businesses were closed immediately and it is not yet clear how long workers may have been exposed.

“Continued use of this building in its current state could lead to a high risk of exposure to friable asbestos,” Mr McCabe said.

More thorough testing of all the businesses will be conducted today to further clarify the situation.

Mr McCabe says it could be weeks before the businesses can reopen.

“We have to work out how much clean-up has to happen within the businesses, does the roof need to be replaced, does it need to be encapsulated?” he said.

“If the roof needs to be replaced that could be a major job.”

WorkSafe ACT will also investigate the circumstances which led to the exposure and if the building owner failed to meet their work health and safety obligations.

“To see what action the building owner should have been taking, or whether they were aware of this, and had they taken appropriate action to make sure the building was in a fit state for use for business,” Mr McCabe said.

Inspectors say the odds of the potentially deadly fibres contaminating nearby buildings are very low.

“While we believe that the likelihood of exposure for members of the public is low, if members of the public are concerned about possible exposure to asbestos, they should contact their local general practitioner,” Mr McCabe said.


Asbestos discovery closes Dickson businesses

A decade on: Queanbeyan still left with asbestos mess

More than 10 years after a $100 million clean up of asbestos was completed in the ACT, it is still an issue in Queanbeyan.

The Canberra clean up was funded by the Commonwealth, but it did not extend to Queanbeyan.

Mayor Tim Overall says it has been difficult to get solid data on the extent of the problem.

“While some homes have been cleaned up over the years by home owners, home owners are under no obligation to tell council about their properties and we don’t have exact numbers,” he said.

Mr Overall says there are measures in place to clean up any remaining asbestos in homes but the responsibility lies with the owners.

“If you’re intending to buy a house built before the 1980s then you need to check as part of the building inspection for loose-fill asbestos, as well as asbestos cement sheeting,” he said.

“It’s absolutely necessary those checks are made.”

But the NSW Department of Health says asbestos in Queanbeyan homes will have virtually no impact on the wellbeing of people living in them.

The department says the presence of asbestos would affect around 1 in 100,000 people, as long as it is left undisturbed.


A decade on: Queanbeyan still left with asbestos mess