Renewed call for mandatory asbestos check after another Mr Fluffy shock

Ian Bushnell 8 December 2021 42
Asbestos fibres

Asbestos fibres found in Dean Papas’s new Reid home. Photo: Supplied

Canberra builder Dean Papas is calling for mandatory asbestos inspections when properties are being sold after the purchase of his dream home turned into a nightmare with the discovery of deadly Mr Fluffy loose-fill asbestos in the ceiling.

Mr Papas was ecstatic when he bought the 1927 property in Reid at auction in May for $1.8 million, intending to renovate it.

With the seven-week renovation mostly complete, there was only a ceiling fan to be installed in the bathroom, requiring an electrician to cut a hole from the ceiling cavity.

It was then that the shocking discovery was made when the electrician pulled up layers of insulation to reveal suspicious white fibres.

He immediately contacted Mr Papas, who could not believe his ears.

“I said, ‘no way, I’ve been up there, it’s been inspected. It can’t be’,” he said.

But photos clearly showed what turned out to be loose-fill asbestos.

“My heart sank. I started feeling sick straight away,” Mr Papas said. “I knew when I saw the photo, that’s not great.”

The next day a sample was sent for analysis and came back positive.

Ceiling space

The ceiling space of the Reid home where the loose-fill asbestos was found. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Papas advised the ACT Government’s Asbestos Taskforce, which set in train a now-familiar story.

Fortunately, the Papas family did not have to immediately vacate the property, with no actual contamination found inside, but the newly renovated house will have to be demolished and the site remediated.

After initial doubts, Mr Papas agreed to the buyback proposal and settled last Friday with the government. When the site is cleared, they will buy the block from the government and rebuild it from a clean slate sometime in 2022.

Mr Papas and his family are now renting.

Mr Papas said the renovation had not involved disturbance to the ceiling or walls, so he was not surprised that asbestos was not found in the house’s living space.

“I believe there has been worse than ours,” he said. “But it doesn’t really matter how much there is. Any amount that’s up there is not good for anyone down below. And it’s definitely not good for anyone who’s been in the ceiling cavity.”

Mr Papas said about 15 people who have been in the ceiling space, including himself, have potentially been exposed and will need to be screened.

“It’s worrying,” he said. “In the building industry, unfortunately, this is a risk that we take.

“I’ve seen a lot of asbestos. What we’re not exposed to is Mr Fluffy asbestos. That’s something that you thought would have been sorted by now.”

He believes that the asbestos fibres found in the ceiling are remnants left from an incomplete clean-up.

“It’s almost impossible to find until you get right further down into the ceiling cavity, which is where the bathroom was and where it was found,” Mr Papas said. “And that’s where you can start seeing deposits of it in large clumps.”

But it was missed during inspections done in the 80s and 90s of Mr Fluffy properties and during an extension in which the roof cavity was opened.

There are also no records of a Mr Fluffy contract or clean-up.

The Reid property is now the sixth to be found since the start of the government’s eradication scheme in 2014, but all six have been identified since the end of 2016, and Mr Papas believes there are more out there waiting to be found.

“A lot of people would be currently getting exposed without even knowing about it – both trades and homeowners,” he said.

Loose Asbestos sign

How many more Mr Fluffy asbestos houses are out there? Photo: Michelle Kroll.

That’s why he says the government should mandate inspections for any property built before 1980, as recommended by the Asbestos Taskforce in 2014 but not adopted.

Mr Papas said it would be just the same as a building report, with the $500 to $1000 cost payable by the purchaser at settlement.

“In the scheme of what’s going on in the market, where we’re paying with $1 million-plus for a house, what’s a $1000 for peace of mind?” he said

It would not cost the government any more money, and the one-time inspection would be on the building file forever.

But Sustainable Building and Construction Minister Rebecca Vassarotti believes the current mandatory asbestos awareness training for tradespeople has been effective in identifying the small number of homes that have been detected since its introduction in 2014.

“Prior to finalising the ACT’s new voluntary buyback program, which came into effect on 18 August 2021, the ACT Government reviewed the recommendations that informed the 2014 scheme, including a full asbestos assessment in the contract for sale for any home built before 1980,” she said.

But Mr Papas said that was just passing the risk to the building industry.

“That’s crazy to me: let’s just let contractors and builders go in there and let them find it and be exposed,” he said.

“It makes me really, really angry as a builder who grew up in Canberra that this hasn’t been sorted.

“If we can try and create some movement to get some changes put in place to not have this happen to people like us or anyone moving forward, that’ll be a good thing.”

The government says prospective buyers in the ACT can request a comprehensive asbestos assessment of the property before purchase or auction and ask that it form part of the contract of sale.

It recommends an asbestos assessment for a residential property built or started being built before 1985 if the buyer has any concerns regarding the property.


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42 Responses to Renewed call for mandatory asbestos check after another Mr Fluffy shock
Vid Brekalo Vid Brekalo 12:13 pm 12 Dec 21

It wasn't mandatory or urgent for Watson high Hallroom back in the day shows how much nonchalant behaviour of our peers

Paul Norman Paul Norman 7:09 pm 10 Dec 21

Good investment money still cheap at the Bank good times for investors.

Adam Sturgeon Adam Sturgeon 9:55 am 10 Dec 21

It makes me wonder if someone buys a Mr fluffy house without intention of knowing it is one of those houses, and then it has to be knocked down does the person who brought a get reimbursed? Or did that mean that they wasted $1.8 million?

Mehri Roses Parvizi Mehri Roses Parvizi 6:55 am 10 Dec 21

Omg I hope you all are ok🙏🙏

Jen McGann Jen McGann 6:50 am 10 Dec 21

This is scary. What about renters? Could I be living unaware in a house that is filled with asbestos? I will never know because I will never renovated it, go into the roof space or get a building report.

    Mollee Marsh Mollee Marsh 8:43 am 10 Dec 21

    Jen McGann yes. That’s why they have to tell you or provide a pamphlet with information.

Philip James Reiffel Reiffel Philip James Reiffel Reiffel 2:15 am 10 Dec 21

So if you have the ceiling.

Vacuumed out professionally of Mr fluffy, why then demolish a lovely home, or does the home just get demolished mr fluffy and all, doesn't make sense.

    Alex Tofler Alex Tofler 5:17 am 10 Dec 21

    Philip you cannot remove all the asbestos by vacuuming. There is no way to completely remove the asbestos. You have to demolish the house. Mr Fluffy insulation gets blown into your house. The asbestos fibres go down your walls, under the floor, through gaps around your downlights, through your ducted heating, cooling and A/C, around the switchboard, literally everywhere. Asbestos fibres are lighter than air and will stay airborne (even without any wind) for a minimum of 7 hours.

Lisa Goodwin Lisa Goodwin 6:28 pm 09 Dec 21

One would think a builder would know to obtain an asbestos report prior to significant renovations being undertaken especially given the age of the property. A report done prior to a renovation or demolition costs less than $500.

Tomas Rodriguez Tomas Rodriguez 4:52 pm 09 Dec 21

Im wondering if this old government house i love Im built in the 40’s or 50’s has it? 🤔

    Xavier Bradley Xavier Bradley 9:40 am 10 Dec 21

    Tomas Rodriguez judging by how canberra has been going lately, i'd assume so.

Ricky Toms Ricky Toms 3:17 pm 09 Dec 21

Canberra cowboys!! So many shonky business’s.. now add building inspectors to the list… I’d be after blood !!😡

Ash Miller Ash Miller 1:25 pm 09 Dec 21

Pathetic effort by building inspectors but honestly it’s disgusting how many of these were passed off to buyers originally from interstate over the years. The loose fill asbestos contamination problem is almost unique to Canberra and nobody who hadn’t heard of it would possibly expect it, you’d expect a Canberran building inspector to pick it up but there should have been much greater effort to identify all these and a public register like 20 years ago.

Emma Watson Emma Watson 12:54 pm 09 Dec 21

There's a couple of lessons here, the main one being that building inspectors are somewhat incompetent and building reports should be a lot more comprehensive.

    Corey Karl Corey Karl 2:59 pm 09 Dec 21

    Emma Watson I guess !!! Until people complain about a $5000 bill for an inspection

    Emma Watson Emma Watson 3:01 pm 09 Dec 21

    Corey Karl I’d rather pay that than $100-$200k for a reno just to knock it down 10 minutes after it’s finished…

    Mel Hendrie Mel Hendrie 3:49 pm 09 Dec 21

    Emma Watson our building report of a recent purchase indicates “we are not licensed to inspect for asbestos”

    Corey Karl Corey Karl 3:59 pm 09 Dec 21

    Emma Watson I think the point is who put the batts in the roof to cover said fluffy

    Emma Watson Emma Watson 4:02 pm 09 Dec 21

    Corey Karl unless they were put in 10 mins before the house sold that isn’t really the point at all. Shouldn’t an inspector be, inspecting? I would have thought that included the roof, especially for a house of that age.

    Bethany Grace Bethany Grace 5:23 pm 09 Dec 21

    Mel Hendrie omg.. that’s terrible.. so what is honestly the point of them? I could go on and on on this comment wow…

    Emma Watson Emma Watson 5:32 pm 09 Dec 21

    Mel Hendrie I can’t even see the point in having an inspection by a company that stipulates that exclusion.

    Corey Karl Corey Karl 5:43 pm 09 Dec 21

    Emma Watson it was hidden under insulation batts….. how thorough do you think

    an inspector should be ??? Most will have exceptions one way or another for various reasons, up to the client to understand what they are getting

    Corey Karl Corey Karl 5:51 pm 09 Dec 21

    Bethany Grace considering the licensing and safety around handling of Asbestoes I’m not surprised

    Emma Watson Emma Watson 6:38 pm 09 Dec 21

    Corey Karl thorough! If you are paying a million plus for a house I want a comprehensive inspection done. But you’re right, it’s up to the client and obviously in this situation it was missed.

    Corey Karl Corey Karl 6:52 pm 09 Dec 21

    Emma Watson you aren’t paying a million bucks for the inspection though

    Emma Watson Emma Watson 3:48 am 10 Dec 21

    Corey Karl that would be astronomical and most people wouldn’t bother getting one if that was the case. I’m talking about the price of housing at the moment and to me, this increased cost would encourage me to do as much due diligence as I could to ensure a solid, and safe, investment.

    Alex Tofler Alex Tofler 5:14 am 10 Dec 21

    Emma building inspections aren’t worth the paper they are written on. They don’t check for asbestos, they don’t check the condition of the electrical wiring and anything you point out that’s not on the building report, they don’t care about as they didn’t observe it.

    Emma Watson Emma Watson 8:24 am 10 Dec 21

    Alex Tofler that is exactly what I am saying!

Jacqui Owen Jacqui Owen 11:46 am 09 Dec 21

It is mandatory to have a building inspection report done in the ACT to sell the house -

If this wasn't picked up then - I would think there was a case for following up with the previous owner and their building inspector!

DOCUMENT 2: UP-FRONT BUILDING INSPECTION

A crucial document to be attained before the sale of the home. In the ACT an up-front building inspection needs to be carried out by the vendor before signing the contract of sale. This involves a building inspection, pest inspection, compliance report and energy efficiency rating.

This is a document used to protect buyers from falsified properties. The inspections must all be carried out and then made public to potential buyers.

    Cass McLeod Cass McLeod 12:11 pm 09 Dec 21

    Jacqui Owen 100% . Building inspection should have picked this up. It is their job …. I am furious about this and it isn’t even my house. I can’t imagine how they feel.

    Frank Trapani Frank Trapani 12:14 pm 09 Dec 21

    Jacqui Owen, spot on!! And in addition to your attachment isn’t it correct to say that it’s also a job for the buyer solicitor to check out the outcome of the inspection report and get it a confirmation to make sure that it was 💯free of any hazard??

    Mel Hendrie Mel Hendrie 3:48 pm 09 Dec 21

    Jacqui Owen our building report of a recent purchase indicates “we are not licensed to inspect for asbestos”

    Ash Latimer Ash Latimer 6:47 pm 09 Dec 21

    Jacqui Owen according to access canberra, It's not actually a legal requirement to have an asbestos report completed upon sale, however if one has been done previously, it needs to be included.

    "...asbestos assessment reports for residential properties: while it is not compulsory to obtain an asbestos assessment report, if an owner has a current asbestos assessment report that has been undertaken by an A class licensed Asbestos Assessor, it must be provided in a contract of sale for the property..."

    https://accesscanberra.custhelp.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/2743

    Kirsty Smith Kirsty Smith 9:02 am 10 Dec 21

    Jacqui Owen When we bought our house in 2014 after our Mr Fluffy house was bought back by the Gov, asbestos was definitely not included in the building report and we paid for an independent assessor to do the checks. If owning a Mr Fluffy house has taught me anything it’s that you need to do your homework as far as building reports go, question and take the time to get independent assessments-If you’re a first time home buyer talk to someone with experience about what to look out for.

Sue Dish Itup Sue Dish Itup 11:38 am 09 Dec 21

What are the building inspectors doing???

Wally Walpamur Wally Walpamur 10:36 am 09 Dec 21

One of Mr fluffys off the book cashies!!! How many are there?

    Adrian Booth Adrian Booth 10:58 am 09 Dec 21

    Wally Walpamur heaps of them I believe

    Penelope Farnsworth Penelope Farnsworth 11:01 am 09 Dec 21

    Wally Walpamur hopefully not too many more. Clearly quite a few missed in the lead up to failed clean up program and some people declined inspections at that time.

    Kate Murphy Kate Murphy 1:20 pm 09 Dec 21

    Justin Oaten It's Willy Wonka

Andy Kay Andy Kay 10:30 am 09 Dec 21

Lol what u expect buying house that old do your tease arch inspections might even have dead corpses under the slab lol 1927 house of course there’s a chance it’s a fluffy house you should have sorted inspection ure self wow some people

    Bec Turpie Bec Turpie 10:55 am 09 Dec 21

    Andy Kay harsh 😳 He had an inspection done AND inspected the roof cavity himself but the loose fill was hidden under bats!

    Andy Kay Andy Kay 11:20 am 09 Dec 21

    Rebecca Turpie

    Still u always lift bats up to inspect sad for him

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