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November 19, 2018

Mr Fluffy homes can be demolished safely, asbestos taskforce head Andrew Kefford says

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“It is possible to demolish a house with loose-fill asbestos safely and without there being a risk to neighbouring property,” he said. “It’s an area of work which is very heavily regulated and at the point where the houses are actually being knocked over, either the lose-fill asbestos has been removed or it has been bonded to the structures so the prospect of the fibres escaping is being controlled.”

He pointed to a demolition of a Fluffy house in Woden in July, where he said asbestos removalists had worked for a fortnight before the building was knocked over to remove the remaining fibres and glue the rest to the structure, so by the time it was knocked over it was safe. Dust-suppression measures would be in place during demolition, along with air monitoring.

“The whole thing is designed so at the point it is actually knocked over, the fibres are controlled and there is active dust suppression and active air monitoring to make sure that it’s working,” he said.

With the Woden home, the internal walls were removed so the remaining fibres could be taken out before demolition, but the taskforce has been considering how to handle double-brick houses, where the load-bearing wall is on the inside, so the outside wall must come off first to clean asbestos from the wall cavities. Mr Kefford confirmed some would have to be “bubble wrapped” – effectively enclosed in a tent – but for others, it would be safe to use technologies such as foam products, glue and water suppression to prevent fibres escaping.

“It is possible to demolish a double-brick house safely and not necessarily by putting it in a bubble,” he said. “It is something we are continuing to explore, but all of the advice we’re getting from the industry is it can be done safely.”

Each house would be assessed separately and have a demolition plan in place.

“If the advice is this house needs a bubble because it’s so bad, then there will be a bubble.”

Asked about an exclusion zone around houses, he said “the bloke standing on site spraying dust suppression might wear a suit”, but “the whole process is designed from beginning to end to prevent fibres from escaping”.

Once the house was down, 10 centimetres of soil would be removed from under the footprint of the house and a little wider, then the soil would be tested. If it showed asbestos fibres, “you keep digging and then you test again”.

“This is a heavily regulated process. At the point that the asbestos assessor is prepared to sign off that the site is clean, they stop digging.”

In the Downer demolition last year, 30 centimetres of soil had been removed. In Woden, testing had been clear after 10 centimetres.

“You need to be in a position to say this block has been remediated, which means we tested, we didn’t find anything, we replaced the dirt to ground level with clean fill and this block is now remediated,” he said.

“We’re getting a lot of questions about this, but the point is it can be done safely. It is a very tightly regulated space and at the end of that process it is possible to say that it’s been done properly and safely.”

The government is considering a buyback and demolition of the 1000 homes.











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Mr Fluffy homes can be demolished safely, asbestos taskforce head Andrew Kefford says

Welcome to the asbestos houses

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Property data shows at least five have been sold during the 1990s.

They were put together in panel polystyrene blocks sandwiched between asbestos cement facings.

Mr Kelly discovered the danger when he was in the middle of renovating and a neighbour ran over shouting for him to stop.

Mr Kelly discovered the danger when he was in the middle of renovating and a neighbour ran over shouting for him to stop.

Resident Jay Kelly discovered what his house was made of after starting renovations. He paid $357,500 for the three-bedroom house in 2009.

The commercial refrigeration mechanic planned to renovate for a few years and build equity to invest into land at Michelago while keeping the house as an investment.

He says at no stage in the sales process was he informed it was made almost entirely of asbestos and he is now stuck with a worthless house that he won’t be able to sell and can’t afford to knock down.

“I’ve gone back hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Mr Kelly said.

The building report describes the construction as “fibre cement sheet clad sandwich panels over foam, with metal wall framing” but the composition was not listed as known.

Under ACT legislation vendors must provide an asbestos assessment report, if there is one, or generic advice on asbestos if there is not – this is what the young first home buyer received.

Despite the fact the government built the houses and allowed them to be sold, ACT authorities have told the owners it is up to them to fix the problem.

Mr Kelly discovered the danger when he was in the middle of renovating and a neighbour ran over shouting for him to stop.

He had already done internal work including sanding and repairing in preparation for repainting the pink walls.

Mr Kelly sent a sample of the house to the ACT Government Analytical Laboratory for testing where it was found to be bonded chrysotile asbestos.

This is the most common form of the substance in the ACT and it differs from the amosite loose-fill asbestos now plaguing thousands of the city’s residents.

The loose asbestos was pumped into ceilings as insulation and is always present in a dangerous form as microscopic fibres. Bonded chrysotile asbestos becomes dangerous when it is degraded or disturbed and fibres are released.

Another test by Robson Environmental showed the chrysotile asbestos to be in the internal walls, external walls, ceiling sheets, eaves sheets and joint cover strips.

“No renovation or repair may be carried out in this house if it involves drilling, screwing or sanding which may disturb asbestos containing materials,” it said.

The report also rated the internal house as being in good condition with no risk of exposure during normal building use.

But, Mr Kelly said, his house remains dangerous due in part to its poor design and lack of insulation which causes mould to constantly grow on all surfaces and leads to paint cracking because of the moisture.

He is continually repainting but cannot work on the house to improve the situation.

The other day he caught his partner’s young son sticking his finger into the hole in the wall where a towel rail had been pulled out.

“How do you teach an eight-year-old asbestos awareness?” he said.

Mr Kelly feels trapped in the house that he can’t do any work on and is angry that the advice he has been given from the government is not realistic.

He said his home does not contain a manageable amount of asbestos and if he was to remove the substance he would be left with only windows and a tin roof.

“I can’t just sell the house because I can’t pass it on to someone else,” he said.

“I can’t rent it out – who would live here with the mould.”

Mr Kelly and the other home owners want action on the matter, believing their health and financial security are under threat.

Do you know more? Email meredith.clisby@fairfaxmedia.com.au.











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Welcome to the asbestos houses

Asbestos sites at Birrigai school campsite covered in topsoil, fenced off

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Mr McNamara, whose mother died of mesithelioma after the family did bathroom renovations involving asbestos, said Birrigai was safe and he would have no problem sending his own children there.

“I know only two well what horrible stuff this and there’s no way that we’d risk anyone’s health out there,” he said. “I’m confident that … it’s safe.”

The asbestos had probably came from the sheds and houses there before the 2003 bushfires, and been exposed by heavy rains. He had become aware of it about October last year.

Earlier, Mr Bray said the asbestos finds were “so extensive that normal remediation work where you dig it up and take it to a disposal site would be prohibitively expensive”.

The asbestos not in the camp buildings. It had even been found in areas well away from the buildings, and it was “hard to know how far it goes”.

The fragments were bonded asbestos cement, which was “generally safe unless drilled, sandpapered, broken or handled”.

“Unless a child was to pick it up and rub in their hands and breathe it or ingest it, it’s very low-risk material,” he said.

The asbestos cement sheeting is not the same as the loose-fill Mr Fluffy asbestos causing distress after being found in Canberra homes.

Canberra Grammar School cancelled a Year 3 camp scheduled for June after news of the asbestos contamination, but other schools are still using Birrigai. Mr Bray said students, staff and parents were being made aware of the risk when they visited.

The remediation work had been finished two weeks ago, and a second official, Stephen Gwilliam, said it was “business as usual”.

An information pack went to visiting schools and other groups outlining the contamination and including a map of the areas where it had been found and induction procedures for visitors, Mr Gwilliam, a school network leader for Tuggeranong, said.

A spokesperson for Education Minister Joy Burch said 40 ACT schools had visited Birrigai this year, with only one cancellation. Schools received a letter advising of the asbestos situation, and “may use this to inform their school communities and families of students”, she said.

The ACT Government’s Tidbinbilla website has a series of risk management plans covering risks at Birrigai, from strangers on site, to natural disasters, lost students, snake bites and wildlife hazards, swooping birds, and even splinters. Asbestos does not appear to feature.

Radford school, though, has identified the asbestos risk, in a management plan that considers the possibility that students would “unknowingly pick up a piece of bonded asbestos containing material and release the fibres through hammering, drilling, abrasion” – a risk it assesses as having a remote likelihood.











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Asbestos sites at Birrigai school campsite covered in topsoil, fenced off

Push to close asbestos loophole

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Ms Doust said, as WA laws currently stood, people who received compensation for asbestosis could not receive further financial support for mesothelioma or lung cancer brought on by asbestos exposure.

“What this bill would seek to do is allow at a later stage they can actually go back and seek additional compensation,” Ms Doust said.

The bill could also allow courts to award provisional damages and damages to compensate for any loss or impairment to the victim from doing domestic duty or caring for another person, such as a child.

Each year about 250 West Australians die from diseases connected with exposure to the deadly fibres.

Between 1960 and 2008, about 1400 men and 220 women in WA were diagnosed with mesothelioma. The high toll is attributed to what is considered one of Australia’s largest industrial disasters – mining blue asbestos in Wittenoom in the Pilbara.

“The figures are going up because it’s everywhere and the exposure is everywhere,” Ms Doust said.

“It’s in a whole range of workplaces and the potential for exposure is so high.”

The bill was tabled in parliament late last year and had its second reading in February which WA Attorney General Michael Mischin is responding to on behalf of the government.

Ms Doust said she was not confident the bill would be supported by the government.

“I think Michael Mischin is trying to find a whole heap of reasons not to support this bill.”

Mr Mischin said in a statement the government acknowledged asbestos-related diseases were a serious issue in WA and it was deeply sympathetic to those who are afflicted by asbestos-related diseases.

“While I acknowledge Hon. Kate Doust’s efforts in introducing the bill, it regrettably, cannot be supported by government as the drafting is unsatisfactory in a variety of respects,” Mr Mischin said.

“The bill draws on specifically drafted provisions and incompatible provisions selected from various legislation of other Australian jurisdictions – some of that legislation [is] ill considered.

“If the bill became law, ambiguity in the provisions’ meaning and intended application inevitably would result in controversy and litigation.

“There are so many difficulties with the bill that it cannot pass in its current form.

“Even if key elements of the bill were supported by government, the detail and implications of those elements should be further considered, with appropriate stakeholders, to ensure that it does not work against those whom the bill is intended to help. This important issue is one that I would like to explore further with my department.”

Ms Doust said the additional compensation for claimants would come from monies set aside by manufacturer James Hardie.

“There is no cost to the government… there is no criticism from insurers,” she said.

“How much more time do we want to waste on the semantics? Let’s give some comfort to these people.

“At the end of the day, WA people deserve a better outcome and legislation that provides better compensation and support.

“Why would WA be left behind the rest of the country?”

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Push to close asbestos loophole