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Toxic testing standoff: Family leaves house over air quality

A Sherwood Park family says their new house is uninhabitable.

Elden and Karen McNaughton say they were forced to leave the house after living there for only a week because contaminants inside made it difficult to breathe.

Elden has asthma as does Erin, the couple’s four-year-old daughter.

The family took possession of the house on Oct. 5.

Three days after they moved into the house, the couple says Erin was struggling to breathe.

“She was having severe difficulty taking a breath and exhaling. And on Thanksgiving, we did an off-the-shelf test for the air quality. It showed too high of levels for us to live here. So we went to a hotel Thanksgiving night,” Elden told CTV News Edmonton.

“Our daughter was born premature, so her lungs are sensitive. And we had a recent diagnosis of asthma, and we had it under control. And so seeing her cough and struggling to breathe is really hard,” Karen said.

The McNaughtons say they notified the builder, Streetside Developments, owned by Qualico.

Elden and Karen McNaughton say they had to leave their new Sherwood Park home after less than a week because of concerns about the air quality inside. (Nav Sangha/CTV News Edmonton)

Testing done by the company showed there were no issues, so the couple hired a private company to do further testing.

The report concluded there were high levels of volatile organic compounds, which can be released from various building materials.

“These are neurotoxicants that affect the nervous system and they also often cause or exacerbate asthma,” Dr. Tim Takaro of the Simon Fraser University Faculty of Health told CTV News Edmonton.

The report also found high levels of formaldehyde and silica, which exceeded the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety code for workplaces.

It also pointed out there is “no standard developed for residential properties.”

“In terms of a normal level for a home, a home should not have formaldehyde in the air,” Takaro said.

The family shared the report with Streetside Developments, but the developer stood by its testing.

Elden and Karen McNaughton wear respirators in the basement of their Sherwood Park home. (Nav Sangha/CTV News Edmonton)

“They said this is just going to be a battle of experts,” Karen said, adding the family tried reaching out to the Alberta New Home Warranty Program but had no luck.

“They don’t deal with anything with air quality unless it’s mould, but they do offer mediation between the homebuilder and ask the residents, but Streetside declined our offer for mediation,” she said.

The developer did offer to buy back the house, but the McNaughtons say the company is refusing to pay the cost of the hotels and Airbnb units where the family has been staying for the last seven months, more than $20,000.

“They told us that they would compensate us for everything once the testing was completed and they knew what to fix.”

“We’ve spent about 20 grand in hotel and Airbnb fees. We spent six to seven grand on our own private air testing. And we’re still paying the mortgage here and the taxes and the utilities,” Karen said.

“We’re not trying to hose the builder, we’re not trying to get rich from the builder. We just want to live in the house that we bought,” Elden said.

“We were trying to be reasonable and negotiate with them, and they just shut that all down.”

In a written statement to CTV News Edmonton, the vice-president for the northern Alberta division of Streetside Developments said the following:

“We are in contact with the McNaughtons and their new home warranty provider to address their concerns. we remain committed to work towards a resolution.”

The McNaughtons aren’t sure what their next move will be.

“Airbnb, they make their money in the summertime which means prices go up. so if this doesn’t resolve itself…we don’t know where we’re going to live. We’d have to look for a different rental situation,” Elden said.

“We just want to live in our house and have her be OK, and we just can’t do that right now,” Karen said. 

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