Study reveals the health cost of the Mr Fluffy crisis

Men who have lived in a house contaminated with Mr Fluffy asbestos have two and a half times the risk of mesothelioma as those who don’t, an Australian National University health study has found.

The study found no extra cases of mesothelioma among women.

Mesothelioma is cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdominal cavity. Studies have shown a link between asbestos and other cancers, including lung, ovarian, laryngeal, pharyngeal, stomach and colorectal.

The mass demolition of asbestos houses in Canberra. Photo: Jay Cronan

The study also found higher rates of colorectal cancer rates in men and women who have lived in a Mr Fluffy house between 1983 and 2013 -32 per cent higher than the wider population for men and 73 per cent higher for women. But the study authors say it is unclear whether the rates of colorectal cancer are connected with the Fluffy exposure.

Prostate cancer rates were also 28 per cent higher among men who had lived in Mr Fluffy houses – but again, the result was unexpected and the authors said it is uncertain whether or not itrelates to asbestos exposure.

The ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health has been studying the incidence of mesothelioma and other cancers among people who have lived in a house that contained the loose-fill asbestos used as insulation. The material was pumped into the ceilings of at least 1023 homes by a contractor known colloquially as Mr Fluffy during the 1970s.

It was removed during a commonwealth clean-up at the end of the 1990s but the ACT government is now demolishing all of the homes after it was discovered in 2013 that the clean-up had failed to remove fibres from wall cavities, sub-floors and other parts of the homes.

The study linked Medicare data, death registrations and the Australian Cancer Database to compare numbers of mesothelioma cases in people who have lived in a Mr Fluffy house with the wider population.

The final health report on asbestos exposure shows men who have lived in a Fluffy home in Canberra are two and a half times more likely to get mesothelioma. Photo: Rohan Thomson

It covered November 1983 to December 2013, with about 17,000 people having lived in a Mr Fluffy house in Canberra, or 1.7 per cent of the population.

In total, 285 ACT residents or former residents had been diagnosed with mesothelioma over the time – ofwhich seven had lived in a Mr Fluffy house.

It found four more cases of mesothelioma than expected among men who had lived in a Mr Fluffy house. There were no cases of mesothelioma among women who had lived in a Mr Fluffy house.

Chief investigator Associate Professor Martyn Kirk said the higher rates of mesothelioma among men could be due to men doing more of the repairs or renovations.

“It may be that men were more often entering the roof space of their house, where there was loose-fill asbestos, or making renovations to their house,” he said.

The higher rates of colorectal and prostate cancer might not be due to asbestos exposure.

“These results were somewhat unexpected and may be due to unavoidable limitations in the design of the study, rather than exposure to loose-fill asbestos insulation,” he said.

The study said the association between living in a Mr Fluffy house and mesothelioma was much weaker than through work exposure to asbestos.

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