Asbestos Taskforce changes its mind on Duffy garage and adds it to demolition list

The Asbestos Taskforce has done an about-turn and agreed to demolish a Duffy garage that the owners say was used to store Mr Fluffy asbestos in garbage bags.

The house on the corner of Dixon Drive and Burrinjuck Crescent was demolished on Thursday, following the demolition of a neighbouring house on Wednesday. In line with its policy of not demolishing sheds and garages, the garage was to remain, but in the end it, too, was razed.

The home was missed in the original clean-up of Fluffy houses. The owners, a family with two children who moved in about seven years ago, cleared the insulation from the ceiling themselves with no idea it was asbestos. They stored it in black garbage bags in the garage for many months, only discovering what it was, and the extent of their exposure, after publicity about a Downer house also missed in the clean-up in 2013. They left the house immediately.

This year, the owner, who doesn't want to be named, tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Asbestos Taskforce to demolish the garage along with the house

The owner wrote in September, raising concerns about the garage remaining on site when the block was sold back into the market, but a reply from the taskforce said testing had found "no asbestos detected in the garage" and "due to this the decision has been made that garage will remain".

The owner responded that the house had also tested negative to asbestos fibres but the comment left the taskforce unmoved.

"I acknowledge your concerns regarding the garage, however this is the advice that I have received," it responded.

This week, neighbour Brendan Pippen wrote to the taskforce saying the garage should be treated as a contaminated site. If the taskforce used negative tests to determine whether or not shed and garages were demolished, then many houses in the mass demolition should also remain standing, given many had tested negative, he said.

"Our neighbours have been through too much already, but want to make sure that no others are unwittingly exposed to this life sentence as they have," he wrote.

The Canberra Times also raised the question of safety with new taskforce head Karen Doran on Tuesday. By Wednesday, the demolition contractor had been asked to quote for the garage and by Thursday it was gone.

A taskforce spokesman confirmed the garage was to be removed, but because "it is in poor condition and is no longer fit for use".

In 2014, then chief minister Katy Gallagher said the Fluffy blocks would be scraped clean, but the government has since decided to remove only the house and to limit soil testing mainly to the footprint of the house.

In July this year, then taskforce head Andrew Kefford said complete clearing of blocks would add significant cost, produce much more waste to be dumped, and reduce the value of blocks for resale. It would also provide no health and safety benefit.

Asked about her level of confidence about the state of the cleared blocks this week, Ms Doran said, "It's a very robust testing regime … I know that the levels at which we test are well above the industry standard levels, so while you can probably never say absolutely that there's no fibres there, there is an industry level of safety, and we test beyond that level."

Pushed on whether she was confident the cleared blocks were safe, Ms Doran would not elaborate, replying, "I'm confident in what I just said to you."


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