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February 19, 2018

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

Queanbeyan residents warned on Mr Fluffy asbestos

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The council’s general manager, Gary Chapman, said the letter had gone to the 11 owners and to the tenants of the block of flats.

It warns that people should not enter the roof space or floor cavity and should not disturb the areas or the walls.

“Any cracks or holes that penetrate the ceiling, walls and floors have the potential to allow fibres into the living areas and should be repaired in a safe manner,” it says. “This includes vents in walls, exhaust fans in ceilings, openings for lighting fixtures, maintenance on openings for power points and the like.”

It is critical that tradespeople are told about the asbestos, “otherwise there is a high likelihood that they will expose themselves and members of the household to fibres”, the letter says, urging householders to also put asbestos warning certificates on their electrical meter boxes and on manholes leading to the roof space.

The letter quotes the NSW Health Department’s advice that exposure is likely to be very low provided the asbestos is undisturbed and sealed off from living areas, and says it is therefore important to make sure homes are well maintained.

“It is likely that fibres have travelled down wall cavities and even into sub-floor spaces where these interconnect with the ceiling space,” it says. “This should be assumed unless you have evidence to the contrary.

“Even in homes where the asbestos insulation material has been removed from the ceiling space, there is still a high likelihood that asbestos fibres will be found in wall cavities and in underfloor areas where the home has a timber floor.”

The council is also considering a “generic statement” about the use of asbestos in pre-1980s houses on conveyancing certificates included with all house sales.

Over the years, Queanbeyan City Council has to persuade the NSW and federal governments to help pay for the asbestos to be removed from homes, offering in 2005 to contribute funds itself, but has been rebuffed at every turn. In June, Queanbeyan major Tim Overall wrote to federal Eden-Monaro MP Peter Hendy and the state MP for the area, John Barilaro, asking for a meeting.

Mr Chapman said the council did not have the money and was not the right authority to deal with the problem.

“If you’re talking abut knocking down houses and rebuilding houses, you’re talking about many millions of dollars,” he said “It could run into tens of millions of dollars and certainly the council doesn’t have the finances to do that.”

ACT asbestos taskforce head Andrew Kefford confirmed this week he had received inquiries from Queanbeyan residents but had to turn them away.











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Queanbeyan residents warned on Mr Fluffy asbestos

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