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SENSITIVITY STRAINING

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"One week after the poisoning," Debbie wrote in one of her notes about Jason's health problems, "both boys urinated brown and experienced excruciating pain while doing so. Tests ruled out infection, yeast or fungus as a cause. This discomfort, along with ulcerations of all mucousy areas, lasted 8 weeks thereafter.

"God bless their souls for enduring such agony."
Debbie says the boys had "extreme behavior problems" after the spraying. She recalls one doctor saying, "Mrs. McQueen, I don't know why you're not an alcoholic. I would be with those kids. Your baby belongs in a padded cell."

Debbie says she did not fabricate any of her children's symptoms. She did not manipulate doctors to get attention. And she has never manipulated other professionals to make a life for herself.

These were not normal childhood illnesses, she says, they were pesticide poisoning.

Her life is a living hell, she says. She is constantly on the "legitimation treadmill" trying to convince the world that her boys suffer from CSD. This makes her feel like a "social outcast."

"People shouldn't judge me until they walk in my shoes," she says.
But she has to go on fighting for her sons. Sometimes, she says, when she kisses her kids good night she wonders how long they will live.

Debbie says she also became chronically ill from the spraying, but she "weaned" herself from doctors a long time ago. The boys matter, she doesn't.

But those postspraying symptoms she says she experienced were notable. In her family health history she wrote: "Went in fields after application to take samples. Itchy, eyes uncoordinated, shaky, nauseated. Lost feeling in hands, feet. Pops on left side brain. Felt as if life sucked out of me."

The Arizona Attorney General's Office and the Commission on Agriculture and Horticulture (now the Department of Agriculture) were never able to prove that any spraying took place in the vicinity of the McQueen home on August 27, 1987.

In late 1987, the Attorney General Office's decided to investigate Debbie's complaint that she was poisoned by pesticides dumped by a crop-dusting helicopter. The company Debbie claimed owned the helicopter was Marsh Aviation.

Marsh Aviation denied any wrongdoing, saying the helicopter wasn't in the neighborhood on August 27. The company provided detailed records of where it had sprayed that day. Further, Marsh said a dumping of the type Debbie described was never done.

After talking to Debbie, the investigator noted that "she has not been told by any of the medical people that they can positively associate the problems experienced with pesticide poisoning."

The investigator also reported that Debbie said a test to determine the toxicity in Jason's blood had been botched by Alabama lab technicians because "the frozen blood sample had accidentally been thawed."

Debbie also told the investigator that her dog had suffered seizures and hair loss.

Several neighbors were interviewed. Three women said they'd seen a helicopter on August 27. Two of the three women said the helicopter was spraying. One of the neighbors, Elizabeth Gonzales, said her kids had headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. Her doctor diagnosed a virus. (She could not be reached for comment.) Two other neighbors complained of undiagnosed health effects, but those occurred on other dates--not August 27.

The Attorney General's Office declined to prosecute Marsh Aviation, citing lack of solid evidence.

Debbie also asked the Arizona Department of Health Services to look into her complaints. Don Selvey, a state epidemiologist, told the attorney general's investigator that Debbie called him often and answered "one way and then the next day she would call back and give a different answer or version than what she previously stated."

Public records do reveal that a day later, on August 28, 1987, a crop duster sprayed the pesticide Pydrin in the area near Debbie's neighborhood.

Symptoms of acute Pydrin poisoning include dizziness, itchy skin, blurred vision, tightness in chest and convulsions, according to Etoxnet, a pesticide information service made up of several universities and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Etoxnet says that Pydrin poisoning symptoms "appear to be reversible."

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.

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Terry Greene