Toxic paint fumes put woman in hospital

By Calida Smylie

Karen and Scott Odell pose in their daughters' bedroom, which was contaminated by toxic paint during renovations in Whitby, Wellington. Photo / Hagen Hopkins
Karen and Scott Odell pose in their daughters' bedroom, which was contaminated by toxic paint during renovations in Whitby, Wellington. Photo / Hagen Hopkins

A woman, treated in hospital after inhaling toxic fumes from paint used in her daughter's bedroom, wants the product banned for the sake of newborns, the sick, and the elderly.

Karen and Scott Odell said they used four litres of the Chinese-made Han Hu paint at their home in Whitby, near Porirua, last weekend.

Despite airing the house, a strong chemical smell remained, so Mrs Odell took a candle to bed to give her a clue about possible lack of oxygen in the house.

"In the night, I woke up and I was choking. Then I noticed the candle was flickering and I knew it was time to get out."

The family went downstairs for the night and left the house the next day after stripping the freshly-painted wallpaper.

Five days later, with the chemical smell getting worse, the Odells rang the Fire Service.

"Code Red pretty much happened," said Mrs Odell, a 46-year-old natural therapist.

Fourteen firefighters from four trucks, public health officials, and Porirua City Council environment and dangerous goods officials showed up. Initial tests showed highly hazardous chemical levels.

Mrs Odell, her 54-year-old husband and a 5-year-old boy staying with them were taken to hospital suffering dizziness, headaches and a burning sensation in their airways.

They are still suffering from the burning sensation, and have sore lips and itchy skin, Mrs Odell said yesterday.

She is concerned others who have used the paint are at risk, and wants it taken off shelves around the country immediately.

"I'm making a stand. At the end of the day that stuff should not be sold as paint.

"My family were very healthy people and it's affected us greatly. Imagine having asthma and having this on top ... What about newborns, the sick, the elderly? I want to be the voice for them."

A spokeswoman for the shop where the Odells bought the paint - Pete's Emporium in Porirua - confirmed the product had been taken off their shelves but would not comment further.

Store owner Peter Bunn could not be contacted yesterday afternoon.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) consumer affairs branch said a hazardous substances and new organisms enforcement officer was investigating.

The investigation would focus on determining what exposure has occurred, how it happened and whether the hazardous substance was approved by the Environmental Protection Authority for sale in New Zealand.

Formal action has been taken to stop all sales of the product until the investigation is complete, said ministry spokesman Britton Broun.

"Attempts are being made to identify if the product is being sold elsewhere and to whom ... MBIE's product safety branch will assess the need for any product recall once the investigation is complete."

Mr Broun said while he could not comment further as the investigation was in its initial stage, MBIE advised anyone doing painting work to make sure safety instructions provided with the product are followed and if there are no instructions, do not use the paint.

Porirua District Council sent the Odells' paint to the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) for testing. ESR said this afternoon it had not yet been told to do a chemical analysis, so the results timeframe was unknown.

Meanwhile, the Odells have no clothes or possessions and are staying with a friend.

"The Fire Service don't know what chemical they are dealing with so they can't tell us how long until our house will be safe," Mrs Odell said.

She said their insurance company, AMI, had indicated it would not be able to help with decontamination costs.

AMI said discussions were ongoing. "In a general sense, insurance covers 'sudden and unexpected physical damage', so when there is no visible damage it makes the situation a bit trickier. There's a lot to be considered," said AMI corporate affairs head Craig Dowling.

- APNZ

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