SENSITIVITY STRAINING

YEAR AFTER YEAR, DEBBIE MCQUEEN MAKES NEWS BY FORCING THE GOVERNMENT TO DEAL WITH A CHEMICAL SENSITIVITY SYNDROME THAT SHE CLAIMS AFFLICTS HER CHILDREN. THERE IS REASON TO WONDER HOW SICK THOSE KIDS ACTUALLY ARE.

After months of what they say were hellish health problems, the McQueens sold their home on Tuckey Lane for a $20,000 loss and in 1988 moved into a brand-new house in north Phoenix.

That house had a new carpet when the family moved in. Debbie didn't complain that the boys were made ill by the chemicals seeping up from the new carpet in the new house. Yet she complained vigorously about the health threat of a new carpet at Eagle Ridge school.

When asked about the inconsistency, Debbie says the boys probably did get sick from the new carpet at the new house. But the symptoms, she says, may have been masked by the already terrible illnesses the boys still suffered from their west-side home.

An even stranger inconsistency centers on a complaint the McQueens filed with the state shortly after the family moved into the new house.

"We are quite concerned that our new home was not properly pretreated for termites and, possibly, the north side of our home adjacent to the patio lacks any treatment," Debbie wrote in the complaint to the Structural Pest Control Board. Later, the McQueens filed a lawsuit against the termiticide applicator, Don's Termites, and the builder, Elan Realty and Development, claiming improper treatment for termites. Debbie said in an affidavit that her home was "highly susceptible to termite infestation."
In a deposition, she also said that she saw "hundreds and thousands of these little bugs, and they drop their wings, fall in the cracks, and squiggle around all night."

No one else could turn up any evidence of termites at the McQueen home.
In fact, soil samples taken at the McQueen home revealed that the home had been adequately treated for termites--with a dangerous chemical, Chlordane. Chlordane is highly toxic and is now banned as a home pesticide.

Yet Debbie testified the termiticide did not make her kids sick.
Even though Chlordane was detected beneath and around the McQueens' new house, Debbie and Doug had a second round of pesticide applied. The termiticide used this time was called Torpedo, according to the records of the exterminator who did the application.

Torpedo, the chemical reportedly used on the McQueen home, is the very chemical that Debbie claims made her boys ill at Eagle Ridge school.

Why did the boys not react to the traces of Chlordane and Torpedo at their home?

Dr. Michael Gray, who testified that even the slightest trace of certain pesticides can make the boys sick, has no medical answer for the inconsistency.

Debbie explains there was just a little bit of Torpedo applied beneath her home, in contrast to the hundreds of gallons applied at the school.

Eventually, a state hearing officer dismissed Debbie's complaint against Don's Termites. A judge also dismissed the company from the lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court.

The McQueens dropped the lawsuit against Elans without getting a penny from the builder.

Elan's lawyer, Mike Rubin, says the suit was "frivolous," and he warned the McQueens that if the case went to trial, he'd ask the judge to make the McQueens pay his fees.

In the middle of the battle over termite pesticide applied to the McQueen home, Jason began school at Eagle Ridge.

At the time, the school was using pesticides and that use, says Debbie, caused Jason to go into seizures when he came home. That's why she urged the school to switch to "Integrated Pest Management"--a nonchemical way to control bugs by using sticky traps and "good" bugs that eat "bad" bugs.

The program, adopted in 1991, has taken hold, and several schools in the district now use no pesticides.

Debbie says Jason's seizures diminished after the school stopped using pesticides, thanks to her.

Jason has never had a seizure at school. He has never had a seizure in the presence of a doctor. He does not remember his seizure at Sea World. In fact, he does not remember his seizures at all. His mom, though, tells him when he has one. He conks out. He wakes up. And he can tell because his cheek might be bleeding inside where he bit it during the seizure, or he might be trembling.

He is not faking any health effects to get attention, he says, or to please his mom. It's real.

"I am totally sick of doctors," Jason says, adding that he thinks doctors are sick of him, too.

Last year's home schooling was difficult for Jason. He missed his friends. His mom didn't give him any recesses. He tried to keep his mind off things by playing Nintendo and watching TV.

But his health, by necessity, must come first, his parents told him.
Doug McQueen says there is no doubt in his mind that his boys are suffering from real chemical sensitivity.

Neither the kids nor Debbie is fabricating the illnesses to get attention, he says. Anyone who would make such a suggestion has no idea what the McQueens have been through since the spraying, what their lives have been like. The seizures. The illnesses. The struggles.

"It's real," Doug McQueen says. "It's real."

Debbie McQueen seems proud of her home, which she's energetically decorated in a Southwestern theme. The coffee table is made of wood the family picked up on a hike. On the shelves are shells from the beach at Rocky Point, Mexico, where the McQueens have vacationed. Debbie says she likes being in Mexico because people don't judge her there. They just accept her.

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