NORTH BEND — Sickened by materials used in remodeling their public housing complex, a North Bend couple say they feel trapped and left for dead.

Jana and Richard York both have been diagnosed with acute intermittent porphyria and porphyria cutanea tarda, a chemical sensitivity that makes their lives unlivable if they’re forced to be around non-natural products. Since their public housing building was remodeled, they’ve felt physically ill and have had to increase their medications.

“Our options are to sit here and die or move out and be homeless,” Jana York said.

The problem began after the North Bend Housing Authority undertook a $140,000 renovation of the building where the Yorks live. Floor tiles were grouted with a polyurethane product called SQ Quartzlock 2, which the housing authority’s executive director, Ned Beman, says was specifically picked for people with chemical sensitivity.

The Yorks took the issue to Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries on Feb. 5. After a month passed without resolution, they filed a formal complaint against the housing authority.

“They’ve refused to communicate with us. They refuse to take us seriously,” Jana York said. “I think they think it’s fake.”

A week ago, Beman told The World the housing authority would fix the problem within the next week. But he now says there’s no quick solution.

“We’ve worked the process the best we can to accommodate them,” Beman said. “We’re trying to accommodate them in the most amicable way for the both of us. We’re still working with their attorneys to try and resolve this issue.”

Charlie Burr, communication director for the Bureau of Labor and Industries, said he can’t speculate when the situation will be complete.

“A remedy really runs the gamut,” Burr said. “We’ll see if the parties can agree on a settlement, and if not, we’ll see if prosecution is warranted.”

Richard York, a 65-year-old retired potter and ceramic artist, is the more seriously ill of the two. Obviously frail, he can’t stand still for more than a few moments because of anxiety. He struggles to formulate a thought, and his comments tend to ramble.

He tries to spend no more than around six hours at the house each day, but he can’t stay outdoors for long, because exposure to the sun makes his hands blister and peel. He’s also claustrophobic. When his wife tries to drive him around to stay out of the sun, she has to pull over every 10 minutes because of his dizziness.

The Yorks have done their best to purge their home of harmful chemicals. Their furniture contains no foam. Their carpets are wool.

Richard York said he has experienced heightened anxiety and claustrophobia, abdominal pains and seizures since the remodeling.

A letter from their physician, Dr. Joseph T. Morgan of Bay Clinic, said: “... it is imperative that the product either be completely removed from the vicinity of their apartment or that other living quarters completely away from polyurethane and other noxious chemical substances must be found. I wish to stress that this is an urgent situation.”

Replacing the tiles with linoleum — a material the Yorks would approve — probably would cost the Housing Authority $10,000. Beman also has  offered a housing voucher, essentially a stipend to let the Yorks move elsewhere.

The Yorks, however, doubt they can find an affordable apartment that’s free of chemicals. They also want  compensation for the past six weeks of misery.

“We don’t have the strength to move out,” Jana York said. “We don’t have the energy or the ability to move anymore.”

Reporter George Artsitas can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 236. Or follow him on Twitter: @COPSTheWorld.


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