ANU releases Mr Fluffy health survey results

Danger asbestos sign
16 February 2017

The ANU has released the third report of its ACT Asbestos Health Study which examined the health concerns of people who have lived in a house with loose-fill asbestos insulation.

The report found one in three people had seen a health professional to manage their mental or physical health specifically related to living in a house with loose-fill asbestos.

The report is based on surveys of 363 residents who recently lived in a so-called Mr Fluffy house, along with 204 people who had lived in these houses at some time in the past. The survey, conducted between May and July 2016, found almost three quarters (72 per cent) of recent residents were concerned about their health from living in a Mr Fluffy house.

Study co-author Associate Professor Phil Batterham said the results found up to date information was a key to lowering the levels of stress and anxiety for people who have lived in a Mr Fluffy house.

"Some people who responded to the survey have experienced high levels of psychological distress and health concerns," said Associate Professor Batterham, Acting Head of the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research.

"However, the report finds people who have received health information relating to exposure to asbestos reported lower levels of stress and concern.

"We also found that most people surveyed believed they have had adequate information about the health issues associated with loose-fill asbestos.

"The findings suggest that providing timely and sufficient access to health information is important to reducing the stresses associated with living in an affected residence."

Key findings of the report about recent residents include:

  • Four out of five residents reported renovations to their Mr Fluffy house;
  • More than half (52 per cent) had entered the roof space or (64 per cent) under-floor space of their house and could have been exposed to asbestos;
  • Two thirds reported they had received enough health information about health risks of asbestos;
  • About a third of residents had seen a health professional to manage their physical or mental health;
  • Seven per cent reported a current health problem they attributed to asbestos, mostly stress or anxiety;
  • Overall, around one quarter of survey respondents reported high levels of distress, which may or may not have been related to living in a Mr Fluffy house; and
  • More than three quarters of respondents said they were concerned about their children's health.

There were similar findings among respondents who had lived in Mr Fluffy homes in the past.

Chief Investigator Associate Professor Martyn Kirk said most residents surveyed reported being in relatively good health. He said at the time of survey, no current or recent residents reported being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Associate Professor Kirk, from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, also urged caution when interpreting the results.

"Fewer people responded to the survey than we expected, which means those who didn't respond may have a different experience than those reported in this survey. For recent residents, only people from 262 houses responded, which is around one quarter of Mr Fluffy homes," he said.

Anyone experiencing anxiety or concerns about living in a Mr Fluffy house should contact their doctor, Capital Health Network on 6287 8099, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

Loose fill insulation was installed in more than 1,000 Canberra homes between 1968 and 1979.

The ACT Government in 2015 commissioned the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health to undertake a two-year study to improve understanding of the health risks of Mr Fluffy loose fill asbestos insulation.

The ANU ACT Asbestos Health Study handed its first report to the ACT government in September 2015, which described the trends and risks of mesothelioma in the ACT from 1982 to 2014.

It found mesothelioma was a relatively rare cancer, with 140 cases registered in the ACT between 1982 and 2014. Inhalation of asbestos fibres is the predominant cause of mesothelioma and an important contributor to risk of lung cancer in exposed people.

The ACT Health Asbestos Study is currently analysing data to examine if there is an elevated risk of cancer in residents of Mr Fluffy homes.