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Thursday, 8 March, 2001, 09:25 GMT
New homes harbour 'toxic chemicals'
Researchers found high levels of toxic chemicals
Researchers found high levels of toxic chemicals
Those who have just bought a brand new house may be feeling sick at the expense they have just incurred.

But researchers say they could also be at risk from the presence of toxic chemicals.

Studies in both Australia and the UK, detailed in New Scientist magazine, have found new-build homes have high levels of toxic chemicals leaking into the air out of carpets, floors and paints.

The Australian research looked at the levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) found in new homes.

Most people would just notice a smell, some would find it unpleasant. Others may have headaches, and feel sick

Jeff Llewellyn,
It found homes in Melbourne which were less than a year old had up to 20 times the recommended safe limit of VOCs - set at 500 micrograms (mcg) per cubic metre by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

And in a study due to be published later this year, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) in Watford, England, found one in 20 homes have at least twice the Australian limit.

The scientists found that owners could be exposing themselves to chemicals including formaldehyde, used in construction, and styrene, which new carpets can give off.

Formaldehyde can cause skin irritation, and even cancer. It is used while making wooden floorboards and furniture.

Styrene is also thought to be carcinogenic. It seeps out of new carpets.

Other toxic chemicals can, say the authors, emerge from paints and solvents used in a house.

New homes

The BRE has looked at 800 newly-built homes.

Five per cent of homes had VOC levels of 1,000mcg.

And levels of VOCs in homes which were less than a year old were twice as high as in those built ten years ago.

Jeff Llewellyn, the BRE's indoor air expert, told BBC News Online, said the build-up of the chemicals was partly due to the newness of the home, but he added that new homes were now much less draughty, measures which helped the accumulation of chemicals.

But he said the chemicals would not have a major effect on people's health.

"Most people would just notice a smell, some would find it unpleasant. Others may have headaches, and feel sick."

He said there formaldehyde could be dangerous, and said tests on rats had found that they developed nasal cancers after breathing in high levels of the chemical.

But he said the levels in houses were very low.

Steve Brown, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, which carried out the Australian research, warned: "Up to 500,000 Australians moving into around 120,000 new homes every year could be subjected to high levels of airborne toxic chemicals for months."

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