Life in a Fog

Did a dose of pesticides ruin a Denver family's health?

Ralya, who had lived in Denver from 1983 to 1985, quickly noticed how the area had changed. "I could deal with the overpopulation," she says. "I could deal with the traffic. I'm looking at this big brown cloud, saying, 'I can deal with this.'"

She couldn't deal with the cockroaches, however.
Ralya says she saw roach carcasses underneath a cupboard the day she moved into Parkview Village in February 1994. When she and Nolan signed the lease a few days later, they say, they had an in-depth discussion with then-apartment manager Melaine Cotton. "If they were gonna do something, we wanted to know," Ralya says of plans to spray the apartment. "We wanted to know the preparation that needed to take place, and information about what it would do to humans."

Ralya says she told Cotton about Ryan's breathing difficulties and about her own asthma. (Cotton couldn't be reached by Westword, but in a deposition she testified that she never knew any of the family members had health concerns until after the March 28 spraying.)

Cotton agreed to take care of the bugs. So one day in mid-February the family covered up all the perishables in the kitchen cupboard and took their parakeet out of the apartment. Then the apartment complex's maintenance technician, Mitch Espinosa, entered the apartment to set off two CB-405 foggers, canisters that dispensed pesticide dust into the air.

When Ralya and Ryan returned to the apartment, however, the roaches were still there. Ralya's asthma acted up several times in the days following the fogging, she says, and she testified in depositions that it continued to bother her for about a year after that.

Ralya already knew she was sensitive to chemicals and other substances. "I knew I had problems" at eight or nine, she says, because she would break out in hives after eating strawberries. When she was a young adult living in Herington, Kansas, pesticides were sprayed on the walkway near her father's restaurant. The chemicals hit her as she walked past; Ralya says it felt like fiberglass caught in her lungs. That's an analogy she uses often.

About twelve years ago, Ralya visited a relative in Modesto, California. She stayed at a small ranch, surrounded by horses and agricultural fields. There was dust and pollen everywhere, and she thought nothing about the cropdusting planes soaring over the fields.

She started having asthma attacks there. They'd hit at night, Ralya says, but she didn't like to use inhalers because they made her lightheaded. So she'd go into the bathroom and close the door, turn the hot water on, take a heavy towel and wrap it around her face, and just "hack up into the towel." But when she almost passed out one night and had to be given a shot of adrenaline at the local hospital, she was given marching orders by a doctor: Leave Modesto.

Ten years later she was living in Arvada with her fiance and infant son, still suffering from occasional asthma attacks.

Given Ralya's asthma and allergic reactions, and Ryan's airway troubles, why did Ralya and Nolan consent to have their apartment fogged and sprayed? They say they were assured it would be absolutely safe. Cotton and Espinosa, however, testified that no assurances of "absolute safety" were ever given.

Enter Kauffman Pest Control.
According to court records, Greg Kauffman received a "qualified supervisor" license in 1991 and went into business for himself in March 1993, after a long stint working for another pesticide company.

Kauffman was on contract to Parkview Village to provide pesticide services, which usually consisted of monthly sprayings of about one-third of the apartments. Kauffman also supplied the foggers that Espinosa used in the apartment in mid-February.

After that unsuccessful fogging, Ralya refused a routine spraying of the apartment by one of Kauffman's workers. "I asked him what he was spraying," she recalls, "and he said, 'Whatever they mixed up in the canisters this morning.'"

Ralya says she replied, "Well, you're not spraying in here." And he didn't.
Nolan says they were still debating whether to move out of the apartment when Kauffman himself paid a visit a couple of weeks later, on March 16, to assess the roach situation. Not expecting him to actually spray anything, they had left food items, silverware and baby bottles out on the counter, and their parakeet--which was highly susceptible to pesticides--was still inside.

In court testimony, Kauffman insisted that he didn't spray that day.
But Ralya and Nolan say that when they came home that evening, the kitchen and bathroom floors were covered with sticky, gray-green puddles. Ralya took off her shoes to mop it up, figuring the gunk would be easier to wash off her skin than out of her shoes.

Less than a week later, she says, her feet and hands were starting to burn, and her skin began peeling off. "My feet used to be so cool," she says. "Now they look like moccasins; they look like alligator scales on the bottom."

The roaches kept on coming, mainly through the furnace closet, and Ralya and Nolan kept pestering management for some kind of solution--much to management's growing irritation, according to court testimony. Ralya acknowledges that she even went so far as to capture a cockroach in a jar and bring it to Cotton's office during lunch one day, right as the roach hatched a whole horde of babies.

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