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Fluffy factions: The sad side story of the asbestos saga

Marcus Paul 17 July 2015 59

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One of the saddest stories (and there are many) to come out of the Mr Fluffy fiasco is the emergence of what I’ve termed the ‘Fluffy factions’.

As the ACT Government has wrestled with how to respond, and negotiated the bum deal it got from the Feds, it has become apparent that no matter the solution, it can’t please everyone. This is perfectly understandable.

It’s easy for us in the media to sit behind a microphone or computer. I can extend my sympathy and understanding, but I will never really know what it feels like to discover my family home has been infected by this toxic stuff and that the government wants me out.

It must always be remembered these are family homes. They are not simply plots of land that I suspect the ACT Government (perhaps reluctantly) feels it needs to profit from. Given Canberrans are now in debt to the tune of a billion dollars – mostly thanks to the inaction and frankly ‘uncaring’ response from the Abbott Government – this is also understandable.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for home owners, renters and others who have lived in these homes. It must be anxiety-inducing to know that you spent an extended period of time living in a potentially dangerous environment. The recent publication of the list of Mr Fluffy homes would have heightened these concerns throughout our community.

I also can’t imagine the niggling doubts felt by tradespeople who may well have trampled through these homes over the decades, repairing this and that, possibly without knowing that the the ugly and despicable Mr Fluffy had left his mark.

So much worry, so many memories.

I recently encountered an act of trolling as I was filtering through the social media site set up by victims of Mr Fluffy. It got me thinking, why is it that people with so much common ground often end up on different levels?

The emotion of the Mr Fluffy saga has led to splinter groups of people with different agendas. It’s sad to often see them at each other’s throats, both online and in the media.

I guess it’s just human nature, and sometimes adversity can lead to people lashing out at those they consider targets, often because they have nowhere else to turn. The frustration, anger and resentment I’ve observed in recent times has been palpable.

I just hope that all Mr Fluffy victims find a way to move past the ordeal in their own way, and in their own time. The victims have the vast majority of Canberrans on side. After all, we are all footing the bill.

However, I’d also like to suggest that Mr Fluffy victims be careful when they turn on each other. This ugly side of the Fluffy saga may mean public sympathy diminishes, and no one can afford that.

(Photo via ACT Asbestos Response Taskforce.)

Marcus Paul is the host of Canberra Live 3pm weekdays on 2CC.

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Fluffy factions: The sad side story of the asbestos saga
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madelini 3:17 pm 20 Jul 15

creative_canberran said :

JC said :

Why is Mr Fluffy ugly and despicable. He was installing a product that at the time was legal and a very valid and good way of insulating a house. The fact it has since turned out to be such a disaster hardly warrants character assassination of this type against the guy (who has passed away) who ran the business and has no place in any rational discussion or debate about the issue.

It was not a valid or good way of insulating a house, it was a cheap way. By offering a cheap product with finance, he preyed on those who in Canberra’s cold wanted to insulate their homes but couldn’t afford the products more reputable companies were offering. Those more reputable companies by the way advertised their product didn’t have dangerous asbestos at the time. Obviously the concerns about asbestos were becoming known, were even a selling point.

And let’s remember the context. When Mr Jansen started operating, in Britain asbestos factories were shutting down, in the US the asbestos fireproofing for the World Trade Center was being heralded as a breakthrough because the mixing method massively reduced workers’ exposure to the fibres.

Was Jansen evil? No. But he was ignorant and exploitative, and therefore culpable.

Excellent point. If you look at the suburbs that are the worst affected by loose fill asbestos, they’re all in low-to-middle income areas (or were, at the time). It was a cheap way to insulate, and if you weren’t aware of the risks and the information about them wasn’t provided to them – remembering that they couldn’t just Google the product – then who can blame people for having it installed?

Given that Jansen knowingly imported the asbestos from South Africa, it seems to be that he lied by omission about the risks and dangers of having it installed in homes.

Tezza7420 2:57 pm 20 Jul 15

My understanding is that:
– The Commonwealth were advised around 1968 of the dangers of loose fill asbestos insulation in Canberra houses but failed to act on that advice. The remediation program started by the Commonwealth was inadequate and the mou with the ACT Government was worded well enough that the Feds could walk away from the current problem.

– Mr Fluffy may have been aware of the dangers of his product – perhaps not when he started using it but certainly earlier than when he ceased installing it. At the very least, I have read homeowners’ comments that suggest they were misled when buying insulation as to whether it had asbestos in it or not. As well, there is a very good late ’80’s/early ’90’s video floating around of a 60 minutes Richard Carleton interview with Mr Fluffy where he still thought the stuff wasn’t dangerous.

– Over the last 20+ years, the ACT Government’s administration of the Mr Fluffy issue has been appalling. They have not provided adequate or timely information to homeowners as and when the Government’s awareness of the risks has evolved, they have not assumed purchasers of homes had clear and sufficient information and they have not ensured that the little information that was provided was actually received by homeowners. Also, the ACT Government has not kept adequate records of contaminated properties and have not adequately monitored those properties during extensions and renovations especially given that they often gave development and building approvals for those building modifications.

As well as the Commonwealth’s underlying negligence, I think many homeowners, and ACT taxpayers generally, are angry with the Commonwealth because they were not prepared to assist the ACT for what is a disaster. Homeowners elsewhere in Australia have received Federal assistance for floods and fires but they won’t help now because this is a “man made” disaster. This is in spite of the fact that no-one can get insurance for asbestos related disasters but insurance is available for disasters such as fires and floods. (I am sure if there was a man made disaster such as at Lucas Heights in Sydney the Feds would readily chip in).

I think people are angry with the ACT Government, because of their historic mismanagement and because the buyback scheme on offer – although better than some other outcomes – have still left people without their homes and, in many cases, without some or all of their home contents. Most of those people are finding that they won’t be able to afford to stay in their area so they are naturally upset. All of these people will be financially worse off than they thought they were 18 months ago.

People’s anger towards Brianna Heseltine is understandable but misguided. Her standing up for Fluffy homeowners took a lot of guts, raised awareness as to their plight and got the ball rolling in finding a solution. I suspect the problem was that the issue became too big for Brianna’s ability, expectations were not managed and homeowners didn’t feel that they were being heard. (Brianna’s joining the ALP became an unfortunate and untimely distraction too).

JC 2:32 pm 20 Jul 15

jewels said :

They let everyone move back into there homes. WHEN, if they had of done a buy and sell back then, a lot of current and future residents would not have been exposed for so long, the residents would have been younger and better placed to accept the change and be able to cope better financially….than it happening in 2015 and being 80 years of age!!!!!

Unless your family were doing renovations you would not have been exposed. The core issue that has lead to the buy back is the future health risk (especially seeing as many of those house would now be prime candidates for renovation).

You are also applying the knowledge and standards of today on something that was done in the late 80’s (the clean up). At the time they thought they had done everything possible, though history tells us it wasn’t the case and a lot of the junk found its way into the frame, and out of the way places.

So it is right to have the buy back scheme, but IMO wrong to blame Mr Fluffy personally, or those involved in the 80/90’s clean up.

JC 2:28 pm 20 Jul 15

Zan said :

Brake linings were also made of asbestos sending fibres into the air. I think they were changed in the late 70s. So a lot of car mechanics were also exposed to asbestos.

Your out by about 30 years. Try 2003. That’s when asbestos was outlawed in Australian brake pads, with building products containing blue asbestos in the mid 80’s. Many in Australia brake pads were made by a company called Ferodo, remember the Bathurst race was sponsored by them, owned by James Hardie of course.

And really that where I have an issue going after this guy personally. Yes people knew asbestos was dangerous, but it was still a legal product that was treated as dangerous, but the belief was once installed it was fine, which is was for the most part true until disturbed.

The same is true for asbestos boarding that can be found in many many many homes in Australia. It is perfectly safe to have, except it was dangerous to the installer and is dangerous if you drill into it or during demolition. No different to Mr Fluffy in the sense that it was safe to live in a house with it, until you distributed it. Modern standards of course say it is a no no and rightly so, but applying modern standards to something that happened 40-50 odd years ago now is a bit rough.

Even today there are building products that are known to be dangerous yet we still openly use them. One very common one is good old MDF which contains formaldehyde, which can find itself attached to the fine dust you get cutting MDF, which in turn ends up in peoples lungs. Whilst clearly (based on today’s knowledge) obviously no where near as dangerous as asbestos, people working with this product day in day out are putting their own health in danger if they don’t follow correct procedure, which is cut in an open space with vacum ducting. How many do you see doing that?

jewels 2:11 pm 20 Jul 15

POV from a Mr Fluffy family – My sisters and I grew up in a Mr Fluffy house. In March of this year, Mum accepted the buy out offer and moved out of her family home of 48 years. The only good thing about it was that Dad passed away last year , so never knew what was happening to his precious home.
Yes the debt to the ACT is huge, BUT my parents have been tax payers there whole lives. Mum always worked and Dad did not retire till he was 70. They got there house paid off and were very happy.
From what I can work out, the various governments of the times did not act fast enough in 1. banning the products when health issues were apparent back in the 1930’s onwards. 2. the Federal Govt talking responsibility for the clean up in the early 1990’s. They took this issue on, but the clean up failed. 3. The federal Govt now taking the”it is not my problem” approach, when in fact it is there problem. They let everyone move back into there homes. WHEN, if they had of done a buy and sell back then, a lot of current and future residents would not have been exposed for so long, the residents would have been younger and better placed to accept the change and be able to cope better financially….than it happening in 2015 and being 80 years of age!!!!!
So, we are entitled to the government in fixing this major issue. Mum is entitled to her family home. Even tho it is now a new home. My sisters and I and all our children are all taxpayers, and we do not begrudge the buy out strategy. I have also registered for the health study thing set up with the ANU, as who know what will happen to my sisters and I in the future.
I should point out…there has been no financial gain. There has been heaps of pain, heartache, sadness and it is just a tragedy to see our home now empty, awaiting demolition. It is heart breaking.

rubaiyat 1:45 pm 20 Jul 15

creative_canberran said :

Was Jansen evil? No. But he was ignorant and exploitative, and therefore culpable.

It was only his business. Why should he keep abreast of his own industry?

I think there will always be people who believe their head in the sand is the only position to take in life.

JC 10:38 am 20 Jul 15

creative_canberran said :

And let’s remember the context. When Mr Jansen started operating, in Britain asbestos factories were shutting down, in the US the asbestos fireproofing for the World Trade Center was being heralded as a breakthrough because the mixing method massively reduced workers’ exposure to the fibres.

Was Jansen evil? No. But he was ignorant and exploitative, and therefore culpable.

And there you have hit the nail on the head, the main concern about asbestos was moreso in relation to those installing and handling it. Indeed even the report I mentioned above on the Mr Fluffy business the focus is on the workers not on the occupants of the houses it was being installed in. Once in the ceiling the asbestos was quite safe, well until it was disturbed.

Zan 10:34 am 20 Jul 15

Brake linings were also made of asbestos sending fibres into the air. I think they were changed in the late 70s. So a lot of car mechanics were also exposed to asbestos.

Maya123 9:36 am 20 Jul 15

dungfungus said :

chewy14 said :

Maya123 said :

JC said :

Marcus Paul said :

“Fluffy ‘knew’ the risks – yet failed to warn its customers – show me evidence to suggest otherwise.

Where is the evidence to suggest that in 1968 that the Mr Fluffy product was known to be so dangerous to householders?

A quick check of the net. First thing I checked to answer this.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos

“By the beginning of the 20th century concerns were beginning to be raised, which escalated in severity during the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1980s and 1990s asbestos trade and use started to become banned outright, phased out, or heavily restricted in an increasing number of countries.”

In fact, I read someone claiming their parents had rejected the chance of having Mr Fluffy put insulation in their house, because even then they knew of the dangers.

So, many years before 1968; the 1920s and 1930s. However, the general public might not have been aware, but I’m sure the authorities were.

There are hundreds of known carcinogens freely used in industry and construction today even though they are known to cause harm if not used or treated correctly.

Your Wikipedia link doesn’t suggest that this product posed any major risks for its use at the time.

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I understand that asbestos fibres were once used to filter beer.
A lot of water main pipes were manufactured from asbestos and cement, gaskets in Cosy wood heaters, lagging on steam pipes etc.

Where I used to work, someone went through and removed things made of asbestos and replaced them with other products, many years before this worry with fluffy houses.

dungfungus 10:18 pm 19 Jul 15

chewy14 said :

Maya123 said :

JC said :

Marcus Paul said :

“Fluffy ‘knew’ the risks – yet failed to warn its customers – show me evidence to suggest otherwise.

Where is the evidence to suggest that in 1968 that the Mr Fluffy product was known to be so dangerous to householders?

A quick check of the net. First thing I checked to answer this.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos

“By the beginning of the 20th century concerns were beginning to be raised, which escalated in severity during the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1980s and 1990s asbestos trade and use started to become banned outright, phased out, or heavily restricted in an increasing number of countries.”

In fact, I read someone claiming their parents had rejected the chance of having Mr Fluffy put insulation in their house, because even then they knew of the dangers.

So, many years before 1968; the 1920s and 1930s. However, the general public might not have been aware, but I’m sure the authorities were.

There are hundreds of known carcinogens freely used in industry and construction today even though they are known to cause harm if not used or treated correctly.

Your Wikipedia link doesn’t suggest that this product posed any major risks for its use at the time.

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I understand that asbestos fibres were once used to filter beer.
A lot of water main pipes were manufactured from asbestos and cement, gaskets in Cosy wood heaters, lagging on steam pipes etc.

creative_canberran 5:48 pm 18 Jul 15

JC said :

Why is Mr Fluffy ugly and despicable. He was installing a product that at the time was legal and a very valid and good way of insulating a house. The fact it has since turned out to be such a disaster hardly warrants character assassination of this type against the guy (who has passed away) who ran the business and has no place in any rational discussion or debate about the issue.

It was not a valid or good way of insulating a house, it was a cheap way. By offering a cheap product with finance, he preyed on those who in Canberra’s cold wanted to insulate their homes but couldn’t afford the products more reputable companies were offering. Those more reputable companies by the way advertised their product didn’t have dangerous asbestos at the time. Obviously the concerns about asbestos were becoming known, were even a selling point.

And let’s remember the context. When Mr Jansen started operating, in Britain asbestos factories were shutting down, in the US the asbestos fireproofing for the World Trade Center was being heralded as a breakthrough because the mixing method massively reduced workers’ exposure to the fibres.

Was Jansen evil? No. But he was ignorant and exploitative, and therefore culpable.

rubaiyat 8:22 am 18 Jul 15

To make it clear our mistakes are not mistakes of knowledge but of ignoring what we do know and listening to financially involved parties who wish to continue business as usual at the expense of everybody in harms way.

Also of letting those who protect those harming us and the environment, for their own gain, get away with it, by confusing those who are easily lead and/or distracted or preventing the sensible and obvious measures to cease and repair the harm.

The argument is always that “We” can not afford to stop causing harm.

That “We” is always made out to be all of us when really it means a very small and self centred group of people who could easily change but just don’t care to, because they would not make quite as much money or simply would have to change and can’t be bothered to.

rubaiyat 1:43 am 18 Jul 15

Nellie Kershaw, a textile worker, was the first medically noted death from pulmonary asbestosis in 1924. Her employers used the excuse that it was not an existing medical condition to deny liability for her death.

The inquest however lead to a British parliamentary enquiry that formally recognised the condition and that asbestos was hazardous to death. This lead to the first Asbestos Industry Regulations coming into effect in 1932.

Lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers had already begun in 1929 for failure to implement safety measures after the link between asbestos, asbestosis and mesothelioma had become known as early as 1898.

James Hardie knew all this and experimented with alternative fibres as early as the 1950s but as was shown in several compensation trials they determined that asbestos was far more profitable and continued to use it in their products until they were forced to switch in the late 1980’s.

So far from being unknown, the dangers of asbestos had been clearly established for well over 30 years before Mr Fluffy did his dirty work in the ACT.

We will of course fail to learn from this and repeat our mistakes again and again. The only people to ever get condemned and be punished, as usual, will be the victims and those who speak up on behalf of the victims.

GardeningGirl 12:15 am 18 Jul 15

pajs said :

JC said :

Why is Mr Fluffy ugly and despicable. He was installing a product that at the time was legal and a very valid and good way of insulating a house. The fact it has since turned out to be such a disaster hardly warrants character assassination of this type against the guy (who has passed away) who ran the business and has no place in any rational discussion or debate about the issue.

Agree. It’s the regulators that failed (the Cth), not the fault of the installer. The science was there, recommendations were made as early as 1968 that the Cth should ban the use of asbestos insulation, but government was too slow to act.

He wasn’t just an installer selling a product many other installers were also selling. He came up with an unusual use for a product with a question mark already over it, so how much research did he do? How much responsibility should the profit-maker take or should the responsibility always and only lie with the government?

Maya123 said :

JC said :

Marcus Paul said :

“Fluffy ‘knew’ the risks – yet failed to warn its customers – show me evidence to suggest otherwise.

Where is the evidence to suggest that in 1968 that the Mr Fluffy product was known to be so dangerous to householders?

A quick check of the net. First thing I checked to answer this.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos

“By the beginning of the 20th century concerns were beginning to be raised, which escalated in severity during the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1980s and 1990s asbestos trade and use started to become banned outright, phased out, or heavily restricted in an increasing number of countries.”

In fact, I read someone claiming their parents had rejected the chance of having Mr Fluffy put insulation in their house, because even then they knew of the dangers.

So, many years before 1968; the 1920s and 1930s. However, the general public might not have been aware, but I’m sure the authorities were.

I remember reading about those parents who rejected the Mr Fluffy insulation.

chewy14 11:10 pm 17 Jul 15

Maya123 said :

JC said :

Marcus Paul said :

“Fluffy ‘knew’ the risks – yet failed to warn its customers – show me evidence to suggest otherwise.

Where is the evidence to suggest that in 1968 that the Mr Fluffy product was known to be so dangerous to householders?

A quick check of the net. First thing I checked to answer this.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos

“By the beginning of the 20th century concerns were beginning to be raised, which escalated in severity during the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1980s and 1990s asbestos trade and use started to become banned outright, phased out, or heavily restricted in an increasing number of countries.”

In fact, I read someone claiming their parents had rejected the chance of having Mr Fluffy put insulation in their house, because even then they knew of the dangers.

So, many years before 1968; the 1920s and 1930s. However, the general public might not have been aware, but I’m sure the authorities were.

There are hundreds of known carcinogens freely used in industry and construction today even though they are known to cause harm if not used or treated correctly.

Your Wikipedia link doesn’t suggest that this product posed any major risks for its use at the time.

20/20 hindsight is a wonderful thing.

JC 8:30 pm 17 Jul 15

Maya123 said :

JC said :

Marcus Paul said :

“Fluffy ‘knew’ the risks – yet failed to warn its customers – show me evidence to suggest otherwise.

Where is the evidence to suggest that in 1968 that the Mr Fluffy product was known to be so dangerous to householders?

A quick check of the net. First thing I checked to answer this.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos

“By the beginning of the 20th century concerns were beginning to be raised, which escalated in severity during the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1980s and 1990s asbestos trade and use started to become banned outright, phased out, or heavily restricted in an increasing number of countries.”

In fact, I read someone claiming their parents had rejected the chance of having Mr Fluffy put insulation in their house, because even then they knew of the dangers.

So, many years before 1968; the 1920s and 1930s. However, the general public might not have been aware, but I’m sure the authorities were.

Seeing as you are using Wiki as a source, if you check the Mr Fluffy page it says:

“At the time, there was little knowledge by the public about the dangers of exposure to asbestos”

So yeah it was starting to become apparent, but still not fully known or understood.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr_Fluffy

rubaiyat 5:56 pm 17 Jul 15

Bennop said :

Marcus Paul said :

“So you think a simple small business operator should know more and better than government and health authorities about the product he is using? Like I said, pull your head in.”

Your support, sympathy and excuses for a company which has cost this city nearly a billion dollars, and has affected probably one-hundred thousand people (or more) is duly noted. If providing an opinion warrants me to “pull my head in” then I’ll keep talking, I obviously need to, with apologists like you out there 🙂

I’m no apologist. But I am trying to highlight that you are sensationalising an issue that was essentially a case of dumb bad luck, and you are also trying to pull out the pitchforks to blame someone who can’t talk back.

Slavery was “legal” right up until people were forced to cease the practice at gun point and the perpetrators were really ignorant of what they were doing and why it was bad. They fought to the grim end to continue harming others for their own personal gain.

Asbestos was well known to be harmful at the time particularly where applied in a loose and friable state. Architects were arguing that it should not have been used but the usual liars, shills and misinformationists made sure that Government did not act.

James Hardy’s management knowingly put their own workers in harms way and lied to them whilst protecting themselves both industrially and financially. When the proverbial hit the fan and they were forced to pay the belated compensation, they moved the company to the Netherlands and did everything to avoid their culpability, even till today.

Everything is legal when you own the law and those who write and administer the law.

Something the victims never do.

Dr_Mongrel 5:46 pm 17 Jul 15

JC said :

Marcus Paul said :

“Fluffy ‘knew’ the risks – yet failed to warn its customers – show me evidence to suggest otherwise.

Where is the evidence to suggest that in 1968 that the Mr Fluffy product was known to be so dangerous to householders?

Read any of the reports done on Mr Fluffy and the concern seems to be not about using amosite as an insulation product, but about the dangers about the method of insulation and the precautions the workers were taking installing it. Indeed even after Mr Fluffy closed shop it took another 10 years to get serious about a clean up didn’t it?

JC, even when he found out he brushed it off as a media beat up. Good article here by Adam Spence http://citynews.com.au/2014/revealed-scandalous-mr-fluffly-legacy-lives/. One of his sons has spoken too. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-07-05/mr-fluffy-son-sorry-for-residents/6595460

rubaiyat 5:42 pm 17 Jul 15

pajs said :

The science was there, recommendations were made as early as 1968 that the Cth should ban the use of asbestos insulation, but government was too slow to act.

Not slow, the Liberal Government of the day refused. Because it would have made the very wealthy people behind James Hardy somewhat less wealthy or forced them to do something different and less harmful.

Just as now the present Liberal Government is refusing to act on Carbon emissions for exactly the same selfish reasons and taking the side of those causing the damage, against the victims.

HiddenDragon 5:24 pm 17 Jul 15

“Given Canberrans are now in debt to the tune of a billion dollars – mostly thanks to the inaction and frankly ‘uncaring’ response from the Abbott Government – this is also understandable.”

Unless Federal Labor has made an absolutely water-tight, free of weasel words and escape clauses promise to redress this when it returns to power, we can probably regard “inaction” and “uncaring” on this subject as bipartisan federal policy.

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