I knew I had a window of opportunity during the winter, in that I could breathe clean air for the first time in months, and could now focus on developing a strategy to keep the roofers from coming back with asphalt for the remaining 100 roofs in the spring of 2009. Getting over my fear over speaking to my neighbors came naturally to me as I walked around and shared my story, talked to them about the progress I’d made, got their signatures on the petition, and also heard of their health problems associated with breathing these fumes as well.
I found out that one family near one of the homes being tarred had experienced nausea to the point of vomiting. Then, I went out again a few days later (when I should have been working on a paper for graduate school) armed with flyers, camera, and notebook and met so many wonderful people living in my community.
Out of the 20 or so people that I actually talked to many of them had become sick from the fumes and many of them did not connect their illness to the roofing project until I talked to them. Some people that stand out for example were a student who lived right next to the storage area where all of the simmering asphalt kettles were parked at night. She worked and went to school and wasn’t even aware that there was a roofing project. I believe she said she moved in to her home in July (one month after me).
She asked me what my symptoms were and I told her that I had sores inside my nose, my throat hurt, my lungs felt as though I’d smoked 1000 cigarettes, my lungs twitched and I could not stop coughing despite taking asthma medication. She looked so shocked as she told me that she had experienced the same exact symptoms. She thought she had allergies but couldn’t explain the sudden onset or the sores on the inside of her nose.
Also, there was a man who had a small infant. His wife was pregnant while asphalt roofing had been ongoing. She personally experienced migraines and then their son was born premature and underweight. The baby also had severe respiratory problems. Later, online petition signers indicated respiratory illnesses similar to mine and one even had scarring inside her lungs visible on a CT scan. Here is one of the comments left on the petition:
“I have lived here 3 years and have been extremely ill for the past two years. I have been to several doctors trying to figure out what was wrong. I have had a terrible cough along with uncontrolled vomiting and I have been really lethargic. I have had a ct scan of my lungs which showed scarring and bruising from all of the coughing and been on countless medications. This progressively got worse and then around september just started to go away. I am now feeling better than I have in a very long time and am positive that it is from the roofing. The timing is just to coincidental for it to be anything else. Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention”. —Michelle Wagner, online petition signer
Oddly enough, September of 2008 was the last time a roof was tarred here at The Arbors and the tarring had been going on for two years, with one year left to completion which coincides with her illness. But I still had to work hard to influence a switch to TPO “cool” roofs which would be a cost effective, and environmentally friendly, non-toxic alternative to asphalt roofing tar. As a kettle with an afterburner was no better than putting a filter on a cigarette and would not protect us from harmful pollution.