FORMER head of the ACT Government's asbestos branch, Dr Keith McKenry, says Queanbeyan has "really no idea" on the size of the asbestos issue it's facing as ongoing public health concerns from the now defunct Mr Fluffy company play out.
The best estimate currently being used by local authorities to gauge the number of houses in Queanbeyan with the loose-fill asbestos insulation- thought to be around 60 houses- is an extrapolation taken from a Commonwealth-funded survey carried out in Canberra in 1988-89.
Dr McKenry and his team found around one per cent of Canberra houses built prior to 1980 had the toxic insulation, and he was in the room at Queanbeyan Council chambers briefing Council staff in1989 when the '60 houses' estimate came about.
"We said to them 'this is our experience in Canberra'," Dr McKenry recalled.
"I remember somewhere around the table at the Council offices, one of the Queanbeyan Council staff did a thumbnail calculation on the back of an envelope- literally- that if there were 1000 [affected] houses in Canberra there were probably around 60 in Queanbeyan, and that to this day remains the best estimate.
"It's not really an estimate at all," he said.
Dr McKenry said he offered to continue the ACT's Mr Fluffy survey in Queanbeyan on a cost-recovery basis while general manger of the asbestos branch of the ACT Government's Urban Services department, but the Council baulked at the cost.
"I remember somewhere around the table at the Council offices, one of the Queanbeyan Council staff did a thumbnail calculation on the back of an envelope - literally - that if there were 1000 [affected] houses in Canberra there were probably around 60 in Queanbeyan, and that to this day remains the best estimate."
"At that time we were surveying all the houses in Canberra to see which ones had it, and we offered to do Queanbeyan as well and were knocked back.
"They were very sceptical about the need to do something, which was not surprising in those days when the awareness of asbestos wasn't as pronounced as it is now.
"So there was some thought given to 'well maybe Canberra's just going over the top with this,' especially when the clean-up costs were coming out at around $100,000 per house ... They didn't want to know about it basically," he said
Council instead ran its own voluntary asbestos identification survey for locals who thought they had loose-fill asbestos where Council would test the insulation on their behalf and keep the findings anonymous so as not to cripple the house values of those residents taking part.
The survey identified 11 affected properties, and Council is writing to those properties this month to remind owners of the dangers of asbestos insulation and their responsibility to inform tradesman working on the property.