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Pure asbestos in Qbn homes
By Ben Doherty
28 March 2005 - Up to 60 Queanbeyan families are living in homes full of potentially deadly loose-fibre pure asbestos, pumped into the ceiling spaces of houses as insulation.
The asbestos has been there nearly 40 years, and while authorities have been aware of its presence - and its danger - for at least 16 years, nothing has been done to remove it, and most people who have it in their homes have no idea it is there.
Queanbeyan City Council knows of eight houses which contain the deadly asbestos - and one house whose owners have paid to have it removed - but it is likely there are more than 50 others, as yet undiscovered, throughout the city.
The amosite or "brown" asbestos is 100 per cent pure, and is in loose- fibre form. It is many times more dangerous than fixed asbestos contained in fibro sheeting, and poses a serious long-term health risk to people who come into contact with it.
Exposure to asbestos can cause asbestosis and mesothelioma, both potentially fatal, and a host of other lung diseases.
Between 1968 and 1978, the asbestos was pumped into the ceiling cavities of Canberra and Queanbeyan homes by a contractor known as Mr Fluffy.
In 1988, just before ACT self- government, the Commonwealth funded an Asbestos Removal Program to remove all asbestos insulation from 1050 ACT homes at a cost of $100million, because of the health risks it posed. Not being a federal jurisdiction, Queanbeyan was left out of the program.
But the former head of the ACT Asbestos Removal Program, Dr Keith McKenry, has told The Canberra Times that Queanbeyan City Council and the NSW government were informed of the problem in 1989, and chose to do nothing.
"There has been a culpable silence from the NSW Government and Queanbeyan municipal authorities on this matter," Dr McKenry said last week. "And in years to come when people start dying of mesothelioma and they discover the stuff was in these roofs, then there's going to be a search for the guilty.
"Then a coroner or somebody is going to ask, 'How was it that this was allowed to happen when the risks of asbestos were known'."
In 1989, Dr McKenry oversaw the ACT program which saw 65,000 Canberra homes surveyed and 1050 cleared of asbestos insulation.
Dr McKenry said he met Queanbeyan City Council officials and NSW Health Department representatives in 1989 to discuss the issue.
Based on the number of ACT homes found to contain the asbestos, it was estimated that about 60 Queanbeyan homes would have the insulation.
The ACT offered to broaden its survey to include houses over the border (on a cost recovery basis) but the offer was rejected.