An Arlington couple say the county’s massive snow-melting operation after this past winter’s Snowzilla sent toxic fumes into their house that continue to make them sick.
Darcy Reid Trick, 62, said her throat constricts, her sinuses burn and her eyes water whenever she sets foot in her home of 28 years. Her doctor ordered her to move out in April, and she is staying at a relative’s house in Sarasota, Fla.
Her husband, Roger Foley, 65, has remained in Arlington. He says he has a permanently scratchy throat as a result of the fumes and is worried about long-term health consequences.
Arlington County paid for the couple to stay in a hotel for 10 days so the air in the home could be tested. The results showed that “the exhaust of the snow melter has impacted the air quality,” according to a copy of the report provided to The Washington Post by Trick and Foley. But the report also said the fumes should dissipate quickly, and Arlington did not offer to pay to have the house specially cleaned.
In a statement, the county’s Office of Risk Management said the study “found no significant impact in the home attributable to the snow melting machine, which was being operated approximately 40 yards from the home.” County officials declined to answer additional questions.
Trick and Foley say the air-quality company should have tested for diesel residue from the exhaust of the diesel tankers, dump trucks, front-end loaders and other machines that were part of the snow-melting operation.
“I want the county to test correctly and accurately for chemicals in our home,” said Trick, a former journalist. She said the county should also pay for any required cleanup, such as having specialists vacuum and wipe the heating and air-conditioning systems, clean mattresses, rugs and upholstered furnishings, and wipe down hard surfaces.
Arlington began hauling plowed snow into Bluemont Park to be melted on Jan. 25, a couple of days after the blizzard known as Snowzilla. Trick and Foley, whose house backs up to the park, were out of town. They returned home Feb. 17 and awoke the next morning to the sound of dump trucks bringing more dirty snow down the driveway that leads to the parking lot of the county park.
The lot was filled with snow and diesel-powered equipment: a snow melter, front-end loaders to push the piles around, and a diesel tanker to keep everything fueled.
Within two hours, Trick said, she was having an acute reaction.
She asked the on-site supervisor to stop the machines, but he refused, she said. After a flurry of phone calls, a county engineer arrived the next day and agreed that he could smell fumes indoors, the couple said.
The county moved the couple to a hotel Feb. 20 and cleared them to return March 2. As soon as they did, their symptoms returned, Trick said. The irritation and breathing problems worsened as they tried to dust and wash the floors.
On March 17, after repeated requests, the couple received the report of the air-quality tests conducted by ECS Mid-Atlantic.
It said the sampling results “did not exceed their respective [Environmental Protection Agency recommended levels] for resident air which may pose unacceptable cancer risk” and suggested that Trick and Foley “flush the air within the house to remove residual volatiles” if the fumes did not dissipate quickly.
A consultant hired by Trick and Foley questioned the choice of the test that ECS used, its method of collecting air samples and whether it detected all the contaminants that were present. “It’s not the way I would have done the test,” said Curt G. Bluefeld, a principal of EHS Services. “They may have had some rationale for doing what they did, but I could not determine it.”
Hesitant to turn on their heat or air conditioning before the problem is fully remediated, Trick and Foley made do with space heaters until winter ended. Foley answered the door to his house shirtless this month, and said he has been trying to take jobs that keep him out of the house in the heat of the day.
At the request of the county’s insurer, they sought estimates for full cleaning costs and were told that they could range from $4,000 to $12,000.
The county so far has offered only to repeat the original test, Trick and Foley said. They said the county’s ombudsman for residents suggested that they retain a lawyer, but neither Trick nor Foley want to sue.
“What I really want is my life back again,” Trick said. “I want my health back, and I want to come home.”