In a landmark decision, the Commonwealth of Australia has offered the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) a concessional loan of $1 billion to mitigate the catastrophic aftermath caused by the notorious Mr. Fluffy insulation product that contained deadly asbestos.
The Mr. Fluffy insulation company pumped loose-filled asbestos into the roofing spaces of more than 1,000 homes across the ACT during the 1970s. The company marketed the product as “Asbestosfluf” because of its fluffy appearance.
A 1980s government-funded cleanup operation failed to completely remove the asbestos product from those homes in Canberra. Officials in recent months discovered traces of the deadly mineral in the inner walls and crevices of some of those houses and declared them uninhabitable.
Exposure to asbestos causes cancer such as mesothelioma. Australia already has high incidence of mesothelioma because of the country’s extensive use of asbestos.
ACT officials will use the loan to fund a massive “buy back and demolish” program scheduled to commence January 2015. The ACT will buy the homes from their owners, and repay up to 70 percent of the loan by selling some of the cleared blocks of land.
The program will demolish 200 homes annually over the next five years.
Earlier this year, some Canberra homeowners received letters warning them that their homes likely contained remnants of the toxic Mr. Fluffy asbestos fibers. The news shocked homeowners, instilling feared they and their families were unwittingly exposed to asbestos over a number of years.
Residents, who assumed their homes were asbestos-free, had performed do-it-yourself renovation on their homes since that government cleanup. Now they are deeply concerned they may develop mesothelioma from the exposure to asbestos.
Dangerous levels of asbestos forced more than 40 families from their homes and into temporary accommodations.
The ACT’s decision to buy and demolish the Mr. Fluffy homes stemmed from a report by the Asbestos Response Taskforce about the long-term management of loose-filled insulation still present in the Canberra homes.
That report shows there is no effective, practical and affordable long-term method to render their homes safe to occupy.
The decision to demolish the homes was welcomed by ACT Minister of Health Katy Gallagher.
“We can’t leave a Mr. Fluffy house standing in Canberra,” Gallagher said, in a recent Australian Broadcasting Corporation interview. “Every affected house should be demolished and the land cleaned up to remove all trace of asbestos. In 20 years time, someone will be having to deal with this problem again. We need to get rid of it now.”
Gallagher admitted homeowners will face some difficult discussions.
“They’ve got six months to say, ‘Yes, I’m in,’ and we’ll get an indication through that of people who are refusing to participate,” she said. “We’ll have to look at how we manage that.”
Residents say the Commonwealth Government had the chance to shut down Mr. Fluffy in 1968, but failed to do so, allowing the company to continue pumping asbestos insulation into more than 1,100 homes in Canberra and Queanbeyan for another decade.
Further fueling their anger was the Commonwealth’s promise that all of the asbestos was removed from their homes during the ’80s cleanup operation.
In a recently held community meeting, many older Canberra homeowners insisted they wanted to remain in their family home for the rest of their lives, despite the presence of asbestos and the risk it posed to their health.
One determined Canberra resident said he was willing to sign a waiver, accepting all responsibility for any health concerns that may arise from asbestos exposure in his house.
“I’m prepared to sign a waiver and so leave me alone,” he said at that meeting. “Just get out of my face and leave me alone.”
Another man and his wife determined to remain in their home were horrified when they read through an information package supplied by the ACT Asbestos Taskforce. They discovered they wouldn’t be allowed to continue living in their home, unless they agreed to cease using a number of utilities, including the air conditioner, heater and lighting system.
Angry at the restrictions that would be forced on him and his wife, the man likened it to living in a house surrounded by barbed wire.