Call Now Button

Two of The Biggest Asbestos Disasters Ever, Mr Fluffy and Ambler’s White Mountains

Asbestos is the slow-moving disaster that doesn’t grab the headlines. From the increasing death toll from 9/11 to the family-friendly Mr Fluffy, asbestos is a silent killer that causes harm for decades.

Snails-pace disasters don’t seem as horrific or terrifying as something like a tsunami or earthquake. But the outcomes of asbestos, although taking decades to fully realise, are just as tragic and upsetting.

It’s proposed that there are four waves of asbestos exposure.

  • Wave one is in those who mine/d and package/d the asbestos
  • Wave two is in those who installed the asbestos in buildings
  • Wave three is in those who were exposed to asbestos in buildings, such as DIY’ers making repairs and renovations in their home
  • Wave four is theorised to arise from accidental exposure to dumped asbestos in historic landfills or illegally disposed areas

The disaster of asbestos will take hundreds of years to fully realise, maybe even thousands. But for these two man-made asbestos disasters, the solutions are exceptionally expensive, and still haven’t created a permanent solution; that fourth wave risk is still there.

Mr Fluffy

While the name sounds cute and harmless, Mr Fluffy is an Australian insulation that left 1022 Canberra properties contaminated and unliveable. Loose asbestos fibres were blown into roof spaces of homes in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as the ‘fluff’ moved into every crack and crevice, making it an excellent, cheap, and effective insulator. However, the airborne nature of this asbestos fluff is exactly what made it deadly, contaminating every inch of homes.

The company also sold sacks of loose asbestos fluff, so people could install it in their own homes, businesses, and workspaces.

The Australian government shut down these insulation installation companies once the harm from asbestos became evident, but it was too late for many property owners. The ACT government conducted an audit and identified the homes they believed to be affected. A clean-up program was carried out, but recently, it emerged that this clean-up was not effective enough.

In 2011, a ‘remediated’ home was discovered to contain asbestos still, and by 2014, more homes were discovered and it was confirmed they were unsafe for habitation. These houses were purchased and demolished or remediated. In 2019, around 45 of these houses are known to remain intact in Canberra, with many more in other states.

In 2015, a register was published of all known addresses that were affected by the Mr Fluffy asbestos. This empowers member of the public, home buyers, tradespeople, and property owners to make decisions about the homes they buy, live in, and carry out work on.

This has cost the ACT government an estimated $750 million so far.

Ambler, USA

This is a suburb near Philadelphia. It was one of the world’s biggest suppliers and manufacturers of chrysotile asbestos products, from the 1910’s until the 1980’s. The waste from this processing is distributed across a few sites.

One of the largest sites was called the ‘Ambler Piles’, or ‘White Mountains of Ambler’. It was estimated to contain more than 750,000m3 of asbestos.

These piles of loose asbestos were exposed to the elements up until 1984. The Environmental Protection Agency then covered the area with soil, stabilised the slopes, installed a drainage system to manage runoff, and hydroseeded. They closed a nearby playground and fenced off the area.

But the problem was simply not going to go away.

From 1988 to 1996, the area was covered in a geotextile fabric and soil, and more fencing was added. However, through erosion, animal movement and burrowing, and plant growth, waste products are always coming to the surface and require continual remediation. It’s also obvious that people still access the area, despite signage and fencing.

The second site was ‘Bo-Rit’, and is about 110,000m2 of land with three areas of asbestos contamination. This site has three creeks that run through it and is subject to flooding on occasion.

  • In 1965, the largest area of a 6-9m tall pile of manufacturing waste was vegetated and then fenced off in 1986
  • Waste asbestos shingles, millboard, and soil was turned into a reservoir and waterfowl reserve in the 1960’s
  • The third area has approximately 149,000M3 of asbestos-containing products, and it was a public park until 1984, when it was fenced off

From 2008 to 2017, all three areas were ‘capped in place’. Asbestos containing materials were removed from the waterways. The slopes of the piles were smoothed, covered in a geotextile fabric, and topped with ‘geocells’, which are a two-foot-deep honeycomb of soil, topped with plants. This cost an estimated US$27.1 million. This method of remediation was considerably cheaper than the eye-watering price tag of US$269 million for off-site disposal.

What’s the Solution to Asbestos?

Humans have created a disaster, and we have no real way to fix it. For now, the best we can do is ensure safe removal of asbestos disposal containing materials (to avoid the third wave casualties) and safe disposal of the waste in a contained, managed location. Until there’s a way to bioremediate or deactivate the harmful elements of asbestos, we are simply storing the problem for a future generation.

If you are removing asbestos from your home, use accredited, licenced removal experts. They will ensure the waste is disposed of correctly, so the risk of fourth-wave harm is reduced.

More Articles

request a quote