Home Life: House Doctor

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Indy Lifestyle Online
AS YOU read this, a family I've heard about, will be halfway through a two-week eviction from their home while it is sprayed with chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects and respiratory diseases. The chemicals are being sprayed, against the family's wishes, to deal with a small area of wood rot in a window frame. Independent building experts say the wood is now completely dry, and that all that is needed is for the damaged timber to be cut out and replaced; any chemical treatment would be unnecessary, and in contravention of the Government's own health and safety legislation.

And yet the family's landlords have obtained a county court injunction - backed by the threat of imprisonment - to enable them to enter the premises forcibly and unleash this toxic assault.

Hugh and Margaret Berger's ordeal started last year, soon after they discovered the patch of damaged wood in their flat in Kensington. They asked their landlords, the Women's Pioneer Housing Association, to repair the window using conventional building methods. But the housing association, after taking advice from a local firm which, funnily enough, makes its money from spraying timber treatment chemicals, insisted that the flat must be chemically treated. Hugh Berger, who says his and his daughter's health have been previously damaged by exposure to timber treatment chemicals, refused to allow the landlords access to car-ry out the spraying. He argued that they had been affected by previous pesticide treatments carried out by the landlords and didn't see why they should be poisoned further.

Timber expert Tim Hutton, who inspected the Bergers' flat, said that in his opinion there was no requirement for chemical timber treatment in the property, as the small outbreak of dry rot which had caused the damage was dead. Mr Hutton says he always follows the advice of the Health and Safety Executive and the Building Research Establishment that the use of chemical timber treatment should be avoided unless absolutely essential.

The chemicals specified for use in the Bergers' flat include carbamate and permethrin, both of which have been linked with health problems. A large number of people claim to have suffered permanent ill health following chemical timber treatment at home; claims that are, naturally, strenuously denied by the wood treatment industry.

The London Hazards Centre, which provides advice on the use of pesticides, says that carbamate is poisonous to the central nervous system, and they are opposed to it being used in domestic premises under any circumstances. They say permethrin is also a nerve poison, and its use should be avoided, especially in cases such as this where occupants' health has already been damaged.

The judge's decision to uphold the landlords' use of toxic chemicals is - according to legal expertise - without precedent anywhere in the world. For this judgment represents an extraordinary institutional faith in the claims of the chemical industry over those of common sense. How can it have come to pass that the courts consider it acceptable for toxic chemicals to be sprayed in people's homes, and unacceptable for the homeowners to object?

It has been shown recently that the remedial treatment industry finds rising damp in every property it inspects, regardless of industry guidelines. Insiders say the same is true for timber infestation: ask a timber treatment firm to look at your woodwork and they will find a reason for spraying pesticides. There should be no surprise in this; what is surprising is that their right to spray is now, apparently, upheld in law.