Asbestos Q&A

By Cory McPherson

1. Why have you released the list of affected houses publicly?

For nearly 50 years, houses affected by loose-fill asbestos insulation or Mr Fluffy have been part of the Canberra community. Over time many people have lived in, worked on or in, or visited affected houses and are interested to understand the issue and any associated risks to health. At the same time many neighbours are interested to understand their proximity to properties.

The taskforce indicated early that the list would be published to meet this broader public interest, after the majority of current residents had opted in to the Government’s buyback program or moved from the affected property.

2. What about the privacy/safety of people who may still be residing in affected houses?

The list of affected houses makes block, section, suburbs and addresses publicly available but personal details of current or former residents are not included and details as to the status of current residency are also not made public.

3. The list only has 1,022 affected houses, hasn’t there been more than this over time? Will these addresses be published?

The taskforce has published the list of the 1,022 affected properties which are eligible for the Buyback and Demolition Scheme. The taskforce may, in time, add other known affected houses that were previously privately demolished or removed through natural disasters for historical reference.

4. How does the ACT Government manage the affected properties?

The taskforce, with the assistance of a range of ACT Government Directorates and Agencies, will manage affected properties from the point of surrender through to resale, which may be a period extending three or more years from surrender of the property.

The taskforce is working closely with neighbours to ensure vacant affected properties remain secure. We will also work to schedule their removal as efficiently as possible and work towards rebuilding each site as quickly as possible.

5. There are several affected houses in clusters. How will these houses be managed and scheduled for demolition?

With the release of the list of affected houses, the taskforce wrote to neighbours and letterboxed information about the management of properties from surrender through to resale and gave a commitment to work closely with people who reside in streets or suburbs where several Mr Fluffy houses can be found as well as people who share a wall or ceiling space with an affected property.

Particular care and consideration is being given to areas where several affected properties can be found. The taskforce will liaise with neighbours in these areas to ensure properties are maintained and that demolition occurs in an efficient way which minimises disruption.

6. What is the taskforce doing to inform and work with neighbours of affected properties?

When an affected property is acquired by the ACT Government, the ACT Property Group distributes a letter to neighbours who share a fence line or a sight line to the affected property. This process will continue even though the list is public. At the same time, neighbours are encouraged to access information through the website or social media or attend community engagement activities to learn more about the property management process and the timing of demolition.

Particular care and consideration, including tailored communication and engagement, is given to neighbours who reside in areas where several affected properties can be found.

7. I’m a neighbour. What can I do if I am concerned about a property in my street or suburb?

You can help the taskforce and the Australian Federal Police keep properties safe and secure by checking the list of affected addresses on the taskforce website, calling Access Canberra on 13 22 81 or by the filling out the ‘Tell us about a house’ form on the taskforce website.

8. I lived in/worked on or in/visited an affected house – what should I do?

There can be a range of reactions to learning you have lived in, worked on or in or even visited a property affected by loose-fill asbestos insulation or Mr Fluffy.

Understanding any risk is the key to establishing the potential for health effects both physical and emotional.

It is important to note that just because a person has been exposed to loose-fill asbestos does not mean they will develop any asbestos-related medical conditions.

To understand the risks, visit the taskforce website to check the list, access support information, consider recording your details with the taskforce and if needed, seek support and advice from a health professional.

9. Why is the Government investing in a health study?

The Australian National University’s (ANU) National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH) is conducting a study into the long-term health effects of living in a house with loose-fill asbestos insulation in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

The independent study will provide information on domestic exposure to loose-fill asbestos in the ACT and on the health concerns of current and recent residents of Mr Fluffy houses.

It will also report on mesothelioma incidence in the ACT, and if data allows it, provide estimates of the risk of mesothelioma and other cancers associated with living in an affected residence.

The study is funded by the ACT Government and is the first time a study has been conducted to look at the health effects of living in a house with loose-fill asbestos insulation.

10. What is asbestos? And what is loose-fill asbestos or Mr Fluffy?

Asbestos is the name given to a group of naturally occurring mineral fibres which were used extensively in many products due to their strength, insulating features and resistance to fire.

The most common asbestos types used in Australia were chrysotile (white asbestos), amosite (brown asbestos) and crocidolite (blue asbestos).

Chrysotile was used until 2003 in products such as brake linings, paint and insulation.

Amosite and crocidolite were used until the mid-1980s, most commonly in building materials (e.g. asbestos-cement products, also known as Fibro and AC sheeting).

Loose-fill asbestos insulation is finely crushed asbestos, and up to 2 million fibres can be found under a microscope on the sample size of a 50 cent piece.

It was blown into roof spaces in Canberra homes between 1968-1979.

Over time this material has subsequently travelled to other areas such as wall cavities, underfloor spaces, cupboards, heating/cooling ducts and vents, living areas and bedrooms.

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