Gail: Unwanted toxics in the home

Gail MCCormick is a member of the Massachusetts delegation to the Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Stroller Brigade for Safe Chemicals in Washington DC.

Gail is a mother of two, a grandmother of three, and a dedicated activist. Though she’s lived in 12 different states in her lifetime, she’s lived in Massachusetts for 17 years and currently calls Arlington home.

When her children were young, Gail’s family went through a harrowing experience of toxic chemical exposure that opened her eyes to the need for change.  She says:

“About 30 years ago, when my son, Braydon, was 9 and my daughter, Sabrina, was 7, we were living in Georgia and our house had a problem of powderpost beetles in the stuctural beams.  We hired an extermination company who came in and sprayed the beams with chloridane.  Chloridane was banned at that time, but the two old guys who worked for the company had been using it for years and didn’t see any reason why they should quit, even if it was banned. They sprayed it everywhere.  After they left, I wiped down the walls to try to get rid of it.  Soon after that my hands went numb and I started to feel sick.

“At first I didn’t realize what had happened, but since the smell from the chemicals didn’t go away I got the house tested.  It turned out that the whole house was saturated. The levels of chloridane levels were so high, that when the lab that did the testing got the results back they called immediately to warn the family to get out of the house…at 10:00 PM.  So we moved out in the middle of the night with only the clothes on our backs.  We left everything else behind because it had all been contaminated.

“The irony, was that at that point in time, lindane was still legal (it’s banned for use as a pesticide today), but they didn’t use it. So if the exterminators had used lindane we wouldn’t have been advised to leave the house, and the exposure might have been much worse.  In a way we were lucky that they did something that was illegal.”

Gail’s children were definitely impacted by the experience. Sabrina went on to study environmental health and described the experience in the opening chapter of her book “No Family History – Environmental Causes of Breast Cancer.”

Today, Gail is an active member of Sustainable Arlington and AHT member group HealthLink and works with those groups on making the link between the twin problems of toxic chemicals and climate change.  Arlington’s scenic Spy Pond is right in her back yard, and lately she’s seen the toxic algae that usually arrives in late summer come earlier and earlier, possibly because the waters are warmer.  She worries about the naturally occuring toxins that we may be increasingly exposed to as ecosystems shift as a result of climate change.

And unfortunately, she can’t stop thinking about the potential for toxic chemicals in the homes of her family, which now includes her grandchildren, 8 year old twins, Kyle and Owen, and 4 year old Meera.  Both Sabrina and Braydon (the father of the children) are making plans to move into newly rennovated houses.  Gail knows enough to worry about the myriad of toxic chemicals that can offgass from the building materials, the carpeting and the new furniture.  Unfortunately, 30 years later, her fears of unwanted toxic chemicals in the home have not gone obselete.