A landmark case is being brought in Australia by a man who was exposed to asbestos in his home. Mr Chris Georgiou, who has been diagnosed with mesothelioma, is taking the Federal Government to a New South Wales Dust Diseases Tribunal. It is alleged that the Government was negligent in its failure to stop the installation of ‘Mr Fluffy’ products in homes and in failing to warn residents of the dangers it posed to their health.
Mr Fluffy was a company operated by Dirk Jansen under the name D. Jansen & Co Pty Ltd. He began installing home insulation in Canberra in the early 1960’s. He used loose fill asbestos which he called ‘Asbestosfluf’. This was a composite product containing amosite or brown asbestos which is considered to be the second most hazardous type of asbestos. It is thought that during the 1960’s and 1970’s, Jansen installed asbestos insulation in approximately 1,000 homes in Canberra.
The Ban of Asbestos
As was the case in the UK, asbestos was widely used as a building material throughout Australia. Blue asbestos was banned in 1967 but the use of brown asbestos continued until the mid 1980’s, until it was banned from building products in 1989. However it continued to be used in gaskets and brake linings until a complete ban on the use, importing or the recycling of asbestos was brought in on 31st December 2003.
Although the use of brown asbestos was not banned from use in building products until 1989, the Government were aware of the health risks while Mr Fluffy was operating and this is the reason behind Mr Georgiou’s court case being brought.
A Landmark Case
Mr Georgiou’s legal team state that the Commonwealth breached its duty of care to him as they were warned of the health risks of asbestos in 1968, when the Commonwealth body, ACT Health Services Branch requested an investigation into the potential hazards of asbestos insulation.
The investigation was carried out by a physicist by the name of Gersch Major. He inspected two properties where asbestos was being used and noted “the men doing the insulation work were exposed to excessive asbestos dust and it was unwise for them to be working with this material”. His report also queried whether “D. Jansen & Co Pty Ltd should be dissuaded or even prevented from using asbestos as insulation material in houses.”
Despite Mr Major’s report finding that there was “some evidence” that asbestos exposure was “undesirable” to the community, Mr Jansen’s work continued until 1978.
The Real Impact of Mr Fluffy
Asbestos related conditions such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural thickening have a latency period of between 10 and 50 years and therefore it is only recently that the full impact of the Mr Fluffy asbestosfluf insulation has come to light.
Mr Fluffy asbestos insulation differed from the usual bonded sheet asbestos insulation which was made from what is considered to be less hazardous, white asbestos. The loose fill asbestos used by Jansen was amosite which had been crushed down into a fine state and looked like cotton wool. This was pumped into the roofs and cavities of homes to insulate them. As it is not bonded it is very easy to disturb and any air movement will shift the fibres.
Peter Tighe, head of the Federal Government’s Asbestos Safety & Eradication Agency states
“the issue with the Mr Fluffy product is that because it’s so loose it was able to migrate into corners of houses and could sit on top of cabling and water pipes. It works its way into the sub floor, and still sits in cracks even when it’s been vacuumed out”,
Mr Georgiou’s Story
Mr Georgiou, a retired jeweller, was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. He believes that he was exposed to asbestos when storing valuables in his roof space. To protect the valuables he “hid them in the roof, on top of the fluffy asbestos.” He was also exposed to the asbestos insulation when installing pink batts insulation and aluminium foil. He recalls his clothes being “full of fluffy”.
In 1992 Mr Georgiou and his family moved out of their home while a Commonwealth funded program to clean up the asbestos was carried out. However, due to the tiny asbestos fibres that had migrated to hard to reach areas, the program failed to remove all trace of asbestos from the houses.
Mr Georgiou’s claim is an important test case and could pave the way for many more claims in the future. As the Government asbestos clean up program did not begin until the 1980’s, there will be many residents and former residents who have been exposed to asbestos and may go on to suffer with incurable asbestos related conditions. Even after this, as the clean up did not successfully remove all trace of asbestos there may still be current residents living with asbestos in their homes who could be exposed.
The Government Takes Action
The ACT Government is now starting a scheme to buy back homes affected by Mr Fluffy asbestos. They will then demolish the homes and sell the land off. The scheme is being funded by a $1billion loan from the Commonwealth.
It is not only Mr Fluffy homes that pose asbestos risks. Two out of three Australian homes that were built between World War 2 and the early 1980’s still contain a legacy of asbestos. The head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions has called on the government to rid the country of asbestos by 2030.
Mr Fluffy’s deadly legacy
Homeowners talk of the stress of living with asbestos…