LOOSE FILL ASBESTOS INSULATION HOME OWNERS GUIDE
“Mr Fluffy” loose fill asbestos insulation
What is loose-fill asbestos insulation?
As stated on the WorkCover NSW website, loose fill asbestos insulation is insulation made from raw asbestos that has been crushed into a fine state (friable) and installed in a ceiling space. If disturbed, fibres can migrate from the ceiling to other areas of the home, including in the walls and sub-floor areas and inside the living areas of the house. The fibres may become airborne and inhaled or ingested which may cause significant health risks.
‘Mr Fluffy’ Loose fill asbestos insulation
During the 1960s and 1970s, pure loose-fill asbestos was sold as ceiling insulation for residential and commercial premises. A Canberra based company known as ‘Mr Fluffy’ installed this insulation in around 1000 houses in the ACT. Mr Fluffy is understood to have also installed asbestos insulation in homes in NSW. Houses in the Boorowa Local Government area built before 1980 may contain “Mr Fluffy” asbestos insulation, although at this stage it is unknown how many houses in the Boorowa Local Government area or other surrounding Local Government areas may be affected.
How do I know if my home contains loose asbestos insulation?
In response to community concerns, the NSW Government launched an independent investigation in August 2014 to establish the number of residential properties with ceiling insulation that may contain loose-fill asbestos material. The independent investigation, which is being coordinated by WorkCover NSW, will help to establish the number of residential properties with ceiling insulation that may contain loose-fill asbestos material.
Free testing service
The NSW Government is offering a free asbestos testing service and property assessment for a period of 12 months (commencing approximately at the start of November 2014) for eligible residences. Residents who own homes built before 1980 and suspect their home may contain loose fill asbestos insulation can contact WorkCover on 131 050 to apply for the testing service and to find out if they are eligible to have their property tested and assessed for the material. Samples of material will be taken away and tested to determine if they are loose-fill asbestos. Loose fill asbestos insulation looks very similar to other forms of loose insulation material, such as rockwool, fibreglass or cellulose but rockwool, fibreglass and cellulose do not present a health risk.
Boorowa Council encourages all concerned home-owners and prospective owners of properties built before 1980 to register for the free testing service being offered by the NSW Government because the only definitive way to tell if loose material in the roof space is asbestos is through sample analysis under microscopic examination.
What if my home is found to contain loose-fill asbestos?
Where a sample is confirmed to be loose-fill asbestos, the affected homeowner will be eligible for a free technical assessment by a licensed asbestos assessor. The licenced asbestos assessor will advise on and confirm the adequacy of risk controls in the indentified home and will provide advice on adequate risk control measures. The licensed asbestos assessor can advise whether living spaces are well sealed and asbestos hazards are appropriately controlled.
An asbestos inspection must be undertaken by a person who is competent in the identification and assessment of asbestos, such as an occupational hygienist, and who is licensed under the NSW Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011.
NSW Health and WorkCover currently advise that the risk of exposure to asbestos in buildings containing loose-fill asbestos is likely to be very low if the asbestos is undisturbed and sealed off at all points where entry of asbestos into living areas can occur (including cornices, architraves, around vents, around light fittings, manholes and tops of cupboards).
It is recommended that an asbestos warning sticker be placed in the electrical metre box to alert any trades people who might attend your property. The placing of a warning sticker on the manhole cover is also recommended.
How is loose-fill asbestos removed?
Only qualified tradespeople with asbestos awareness training can work on any areas identified with asbestos. Removal of loose-fill asbestos fibres may only be done by a Class A licensed friable asbestos removalist. WorkCover have advised that people who own houses insulated with loose-fill asbestos can either organise for its removal by engaging a Class A licensed friable asbestos removalist or contain the loose material by effective and durable sealing. A list of class A licenced friable asbestos removalists can be accessed via the WorkCover NSW website workcover.nsw.gov.au.
Can I renovate my home if it contains loose asbestos insulation?
WorkCover have advised that if your property contains loose fill asbestos insulation you should not undertake any refurbishment work that might expose you to asbestos fibres. This includes work such as altering any walls, ceilings, or cornices, or cabling (unless surface mounted) or creating additional wall sockets/outlets that are recessed in walls. You should avoid accessing subfloor areas until a further asbestos assessment under controlled conditions is conducted by a WorkCover licensed Asbestos Assessor. For demolition or redevelopment work, any asbestos containing materials must be safely removed and disposed of prior to any work commencing. Only qualified tradespeople with asbestos awareness training can work on any areas identified with asbestos. As advised previously, removal of loose-fill asbestos fibres may only be done by a class A licensed friable asbestos removalist. A list of class A licenced friable asbestos removalists and a list of licenced asbestos assessors can be accessed via the WorkCover NSW website workcover.nsw.gov.au.
What are the laws about disclosure of asbestos in homes?
In NSW there are presently no laws that require a seller to disclose whether a home contains asbestos, it is a “buyer beware” situation. If your house was built before 1990, it should be specifically checked for asbestos (it is noted that loose-fill asbestos insulation was not used after 1980, although if your home was built or renovated before 1987, it is likely that it contains some form of asbestos building product if not specifically loose-fill asbestos insulation, and If your home was built or renovated between 1987 and 1990, there is a chance that it may contain asbestos material). A standard building report does not generally provide this information. You should specifically request that the building report include information on asbestos that may be present in the building or separately obtain a specialist report.
There are legal requirements to disclose the presence of asbestos if a property is tenanted out. Property owners and agents should therefore inform any tenants or occupiers of the presence of asbestos and address any potential asbestos hazards where appropriate. Property owners who let their properties out are required to identify any asbestos within those properties before any work is carried out (this includes residential properties). The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 states that the person conducting a business or undertaking in any building constructed before 31 December 2003 must identify if there is any asbestos in the building. All commercial properties that contain asbestos must have and maintain a current asbestos register and asbestos management plan.
Containment - general advice
Residents and trades people should not enter the roof space or subfloor area;
All manholes should be sealed and be labelled with signs indicating the presence of friable asbestos (friable asbestos is asbestos material which can be crumbled, pulverised, or reduced to powder by hand pressure).
All cracks in walls and ceilings should be sealed to prevent entry of asbestos fibres into the living area.
Any wall or ceiling vents or openings should be sealed, and any exhaust fans which discharge into the roof space should be disconnected and sealed. All cornices, architraves, light fittings, manholes, tops of cupboards, etc must also be well sealed.
Any electrical, plumbing or other work in the roof space must be carried out by a qualified contractor, using approved personal and respiratory protection equipment, and observing safe work practices prescribed by WorkCover. Only qualified tradespeople with asbestos awareness training can work on any areas identified with asbestos.
No demolition, alteration or construction work should be carried out until the asbestos has been removed by a contractor holding a current friable (Class A) asbestos removal licence issued by NSW WorkCover Authority;
The local Fire Brigade and Emergency Services should be notified of all premises that contain loose asbestos roof insulation.
Where to go for more information
For more information on asbestos, including loose fill asbestos insulation, contact WorkCovers Information Centre on 131 050 or visit their website via workcover.nsw.gov.au.
Other helpful weblinks
Picture of loose-fill asbestos insulation