The phrase “safe as houses” means little for residents of one Adelaide suburb, who have had to evacuate ahead of the demolition of homes after a toxic contaminant was found.

The carcinogenic industrial solvent trichloroethylene has been detected in the air, soil and groundwater near homes in Clovelly Park, a suburb in Adelaide’s south.

Some residents had been aware of the contamination for years, but beleieved they were safe within their houses.

Recent checks revealed the presence of trichloroethylene indoors, and have led to the evacuation of around thirty homes.

Trichloroethylene is used as a degreaser, and the contamination is reportedly a result of the area's long association with the automotive industry.

The Government has even raised the possibility that some will need to be demolished, but says that its actions are the result of hopefully excessive caution.

Prolonged high exposure to the solvent is thought to cause cancer, but the levels detected in the homes were about 1,000 times lower than those allowed in a workplace.

The SA Government say it is preparing an “action plan”, but has been criticised for the speed of its response after it received a report on the issue in May.

The state’s Health Department has advised that it is very unlikely any residents have been exposed to levels of trichloroethylene which would have a negative impact on their health.

The Environment Protection Authority is working through the issues with residents, saying it does aim to make many of the houses habitable again through remediation.

Some residents have said they are annoyed at the possibility of having to re-locate, and the sluggish response from the Government.