How often do you think about the air you breathe? If you’re like I was, most likely thoughts about air, or air quality, are limited to only really bad air quality days, if at all. Other responsibilities took precedence for me such as taking care of my child, attending graduate school, keeping up on household duties. After the birth of my daughter I made it a priority to curb bad indoor air quality by using natural cleaning products and became much more conscious about avoiding chemicals in conventional foods and products.
For me, all of that nonchalant ignorance about outdoor air quality went directly out the window just as toxic tar fumes were literally coming in my windows…and through the cracks in my door, and in through the ventilation system in my home from a massive roof tarring project that I moved into in the summer of 2008.
My family and I were one of the first to be hit hard by the economy after my husband’s lay off from his job in the mortgage industry in 2007. So, moving into The Arbors at Antelope rental home community was a real chance to start over and we were so optimistic, even giddy with excitement about this move.
What’s known as The Arbors in Antelope, California used to be the old Capehart base housing for McClellan Air Force base in North Highlands, California. After the base closed all 534 homes on this 150 acre property were purchased by a corporate real estate company called The Carmel Partners. It was turned into an opportunity for families to step up from apartment living, or has been a second chance for many who lost their homes during the housing crisis. For many lower-middle to middle class working families in the area, this is home; with its sprawling green grass, mature shade trees and plenty of space for kids to run around and play it is a comfortable alternative.
It wasn’t long before I started to develop strange symptoms like a burning throat, sores in my nose, a persistent cough, and twitching lungs. At first, I was in denial about my strange symptoms and the possible link to the noxious roofing tar odors that were present in the community. Later, I was diagnosed with intermittent asthma after a few of the homes nearest to mine were being re-roofed with hot asphalt roofing tar. The only way to keep the fumes out was to apply tape over the gaps around my front door and over the ventilation system fed by outdoor air. I was in a panic, and no one seemed to be able to help me and so on a few occasions when the fumes were particularly bad, I had to put a mask over my then three year old daughter’s nose and mouth and drive her out of the area for fresh air.
I realized that sitting around feeling like a powerless victim was not an option anymore when my daughter started to develop similar symptoms to mine. After all, it is my job as her mother to protect her from all kinds of dangers, and this was no different.
After I spoke to the property manager and found out that all of the homes were being re-roofed using hot tar over a three year period, I began what would end up being a year-long campaign to stop the roofing tar project and became an advocate for a switch to an alternative flat roofing method that would be safer for not only myself and my daughter, but for the whole community.