Asbestos was used heavily in Australia for the better part of the last century, in fact, it wasn't officially made illegal until 2003 and even to this day, building materials imported from outside the nation are routinely testing positive for this deadly mineral. Of all the asbestos found in Australia, the most concerning is without a doubt loose fill or "friable" asbestos, although not as common as other asbestos products like fibreboard cement and roofing it was used in Australia's cooler areas as ceiling and wall cavity insulation. The predominant areas that utilised Mr Fluffy insulation "a blanket term coined to described Asbestosfluf, J&H Insulation and any other materials imported by Dirk Jansen during the 1960s and 70s" are located in Canberra's outer suburbs. Seemingly cursed from the beginning of development, the new homes being produced were planned in favour of an emerging design concept known as Radburn Housing. The concept born of resistance to the suburban boom incurred from the invention of the automobile introduced concepts of communal space, shared walkways and urban planning to minimise the use of vehicular transport. Whilst seeming well thought out, the gridded housing arrangement with thin access paths proved to do very little other than to become hot spots for criminal activity within any city that proceeded with the concept, from it's original New Jersey estate throughout the United Kingdom and even in Sydney's own Villawood. With failure spanning the globe, many of the Radburn estates were either demolished or redeveloped to conform with more traditional suburban layouts.
Now, as interesting as this all is, what does it have to do with asbestos you may be asking?
Well, as mentioned above, the majority of housing (both private and public) constructed in a Radburn'ian fashion was either demolished or reimagined within a short period of time to counteract the negative impact the layouts were having on surrounding communities. Simple enough of a task for most - however - by the end of the 1970s the Australian Government was already catching on to the harmful effects of asbestos and began measures to regulate the sale of loose fill fibres and certain other products and so began a battle of two evils. The question remained for decades, continue asbestos abatement works and deal with geographically isolated crime spikes or spend in excess of one billion dollars to create replacement homes for displaced public housing tenants and enact a process of land buyback for private owners. Well, it took a rather long time to come to a decision but eventually in 2016 the Australian Capital Territory Asbestos Taskforce announced a list of affected homes eligible for reimbursement via a buyback scheme, although seemingly an amicable solution for current property owners, further problems were raised when a number of title holders (unaware of the hazardous material contamination upon purchase) received what they believed to be less than the properties value when accounting for inflation, with one such family even going on to report that they were unable to afford the property in which they once lived after it's remediation.
Now in the full swing of redevelopment these experimental suburban blocks are finally being addressed, officially recognised as some of the worst asbestos affected areas in Australia, it has been estimated that at least 30,000 individuals over the past four decades have been exposed to the raw mineral fibres that constitute the loose fill insulation. With more asbestos containing products being introduced from overseas industry, is there possibly a lesson to be learned from this story? Would less lives have been affected if the problem was addressed earlier, was it unavoidable? If you suspect that your property may contain previously undisclosed asbestos, it certainly pays to have it inspected. Ignoring the contamination will inevitably result in greater issues in the future. Don't be like Canberra - Call Ausbestos on 1300 045 355.