residue harmed next tenant at
Housing Hope Snohomish apartment unit
SNOHOMISH — Jeanette Westover didn't know why her health began deteriorating soon after arriving in Washington state.
The first symptoms of feeling ill began in September. Then came skin rashes and itching in October. Her first seizure came Nov. 2. Things worsened with more hospital stays and newfound dementia.
All along, it was remnant toxins in her apartment in Pilchuck Place, 131 Ave. E, sickening her.
A certified contractor's test results in March showed Westover's bedroom had off-the-charts contamination from meth. It was at least 200 times above the state's legal threshold. The rest of the unit was found to be beyond state standards, too.
The results of a separate series of contamination tests by an insurance company are understood to be expected later this week.
Westover said she didn’t connect the dots on why her freshly painted apartment smelled of ammonia. It was worst with the heater on.
After ordering an at-home environmental methamphetamine test in February, "the tests came back red-hot, as hot as it could be," she said.
Officials tested the unit shortly after. The Snohomish County Health Department issued an order to decontaminate this unit.
The Tenants Union of Washington State, a housing justice group, arranged an alternative place for Westover to stay.
Housing Hope told the Tribune it didn't have any record this unit needed decontamination when it handed the keys to Westover.
"There are no reports in our files from property staff nor have we received any notices from the City of Snohomish that meth or contamination from meth was an issue at Pilchuck Place," Housing Hope spokeswoman Joan Penney said.
Former Housing Hope community manager Joshua James, though, said he finds it hard to believe nobody within Housing Hope knew. He's just not certain if someone wrote it down.
James' role was the go-to contact for residents after they moved into Housing Hope's properties all over east county.
The test findings confirmed neighbors' hunches about drug activity from Westover's Unit 3, which a neighbor said before it went vacant was taking visitors at all hours.
"In the first week I moved in, another neighbor said a meth lab was in there," Westover said.
Within a month of starting the job, James said residents in Pilchuck Place approached him with their suspicions.
Residents such as Cathy Taylor, who has the unit next door.
Taylor self-evacuated from her apartment a few weeks ago when the test results became known. She left out of concern for her health.
The testing company Housing Hope hired did tests on the units next to Westover’s. It found Taylor's unit doesn't exceed the Washington state threshold to require a clean up. Test results show her unit's most contaminated area is one-half of this state's minimum threshold. If this was in Colorado or a few other states with lower thresholds, the finding would trigger mandatory cleanup.
Housing Hope said it is taking everything in Westover's apartment down to the studs for the cleanup.
The attic is where neighbors think meth was being manufactured inconspicuously. The highest level of contamination found in Westover's apartment was by the hatch to get to the attic.
Housing Hope discredits the notion it was in the attic.
Penney, from Housing Hope, said that “there are absolutely no signs of attic activity related to a meth lab operation. The photos we have of the space are in working order and show no signs of the heat, water and other chemical ingredients used in meth production.”
Westover came here from Texas to be an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for HopeWorks, the social enterprise arm of Housing Hope. She was placed in Pilchuck Place by coincidence.
After seven months of exposure, the environmental toxins altered her brain. She describes it as “functional dementia.” where she forgets the topic mid-conversation.
The toxins rewired her brain to run in overdrive at the risk of causing a seizure.
During a lenthy January hospital stay, she experienced seizures.
"Jeanette's heart stopped multiple times. This literally almost killed her," friend Susan Jones said.
Westover has no idea what damage this exposure may have done to her fertility.
She sought $50,000 upfront from Housing Hope to assist her neighbors to self-evacuate. Westover, 32, also intends to seek restitution money which will cover her care needs as a disabled person for decades to come.
"These people have changed my life forever," she said.
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