The occupants of a Lake Macquarie property that is set to be demolished have spoken of their shock at discovering their home contained deadly loose-fill asbestos insulation.
Jaye Hesse, his wife Michelle and their young children had been living in the 1950s-era weatherboard house in Glendale for 12 months before discovering the material in February.
It is thought the asbestos was installed as part of a late 1970s extension.
“I recognised it immediately and just felt gutted,” Mr Hesse, who works with asbestos and contaminated materials, said.
Subsequent testing by the Department of Fair Trading confirmed Mr Hesse’s fears.
He and his family have since had to abandon the house with the majority of their belongings still inside. The government has purchased the property, which will be demolished in the near future.
“We have had to walked out with nothing,” Mr Hesse said.
Loose-fill asbestos is raw crushed asbestos which was commonly used for ceiling insulation in the 1960s and 1970s.
To date, 149 NSW properties have tested positive to the notorious insulation, however, the Glendale case is the first time it has been found in the Hunter.
The discovery has forced the NSW government to offer free testing for the hazardous product across five local government areas in the Hunter.
Owners of homes built before 1980 are encouraged to participate in the program.
Mr Hesse encouraged anyone who suspected their house may contain loose-fill asbestos to have it checked.
“I would hate to see what has happened to us happen to someone else,” he said.
“We had a building inspection as part of our loan but sometimes you just can’t see this stuff until you do a renovation.”
While the family had home and contents insurance, the insurer has refused to pay for the cost of the asbestos contamination.
Mr Hesse said he had since discovered that 60 to 70 per cent of homes in Australia contained some sort of asbestos.
“Take the government up on its offer and get your house checked by licensed inspector who follows the correct procedures,” Mr Hesse said.
“This stuff is deadly, there are 160,000 asbestos fibres on a piece of insulation that is the size of a grain of rice.
“It’s not something you can muck around with.”
While it wasn’t considered dangerous at that time, loose-fill asbestos has since been found to pose a risk to health as the airborne fibres can move from the ceiling into living spaces.
The product was widely used in the ACT, where the primary supplier - Mr Fluffy - was based.
The NSW government established a taskforce to assess and consider the costs and benefits of a similar purchase and demolition scheme in December 2014.
More than 65,000 properties have been tested in NSW since with 149 positive results. Sixty were located in Queanbeyan City Council, on the edge of the ACT.
But to date, the Hunter had been untested as existing knowledge suggested loose-fill asbestos insulation was not used in the region.
“All evidence presented to the NSW government had shown that loose-fill asbestos insulation had not been used in the region,” NSW Fair Trading executive director Peter Dunphy said.
“NSW Fair Trading acted swiftly to assess the Lake Macquarie home, and have now ensured other local residents can also access the free testing regime.”
Loose-fill asbestos insulation was used used in at least 1000 homes in the ACT and an unknown number in NSW. More than 900 homes have been demolished in the ACT under the territory’s scheme.
In NSW, the Voluntary Purchase and Demolition Program and its associated assistance package provides owners with options, including purchase of their property at market value as if it was not affected by loose-fill asbestos insulation.
“If your home is found to contain loose-fill asbestos insulation then there are options available, including having your home purchased at market value by the government, as if it didn’t contain asbestos,” Mr Dunphy said.
“Our number one focus is removing this hazard from the community, while also protecting the biggest investment most of us will make in our lifetimes, the family home.”
Mr Dunphy said there is no reason to suggest more properties would be identified with the product other than the 0.2 per cent positive test rate from 65,000 statewide tests.
“In Newcastle, we are expecting it probably was just a local builder or local home owner who thought it was a good idea to put it into the ceiling,” he said.
“There is no evidence to suggest that there was a contractor that was installing loose-fill asbestos like occurred in southern NSW.”
During demolition, houses are covered in sheeting and the product is contained within the demolition zone.
Residents of Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Cessnock, Maitland and Port Stephens who live in homes built before 1980 will have the next 30 days to register for the free test.
For more information and to register for testing visit www.loosefillasbestos.nsw.gov.au or Sevice NSW on 1300 784 379.