by Ashley Bach
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Over the first year of her life, Caroline Weaks frequently had a hacking cough, ear infections and breathing problems. But when the baby would leave her Snoqualmie Ridge home for a period of time, her sinuses would clear, said her mother, Laura.
Laura Weaks was one of several parents who stood on a sidewalk in her neighborhood last week protesting what they say is unhealthy air in several Snoqualmie Ridge homes. Her daughter, now almost 2, played in the shade nearby while the parents held signs that said the homes make "kids sick."
The Weakses are one of seven families that have individually sued Quadrant Homes, a subsidiary of Weyerhaeuser and the developer of the Snoqualmie Ridge urban village, which has attracted thousands of residents to Snoqualmie. The first lawsuit is scheduled to be heard in May 2006.
The lawsuits, most filed last fall but the latest filed last week in King County Superior Court, say Quadrant negligently built the families' homes with fiberglass insulation installed in the heating ducts, a code violation that spread glass fibers throughout the homes.
According to the lawsuits, the fibers caused several health problems among the parents and their children, including frequent nosebleeds, eye problems, sinus infections, sore throats and breathing difficulties. The families are seeking unspecified damages for medical costs, cleanup and loss of property value.
Since the fiberglass was discovered last year, Quadrant has refused to "completely decontaminate homes," the lawsuits say, or "reasonably investigate the extent of the fiberglass contamination."
Quadrant declined to comment at length on the lawsuits but denied some of the families' allegations.
In a written statement, Quadrant spokesman Bill Boucher said the fiberglass "has been an isolated problem that has affected a small number of homes."
"We have offered inspections to all homeowners," Boucher said. "When we have found misplaced insulation, we have offered to work with the homeowners to remedy the situation. Some have accepted our offer.
"Airborne fiberglass may be an irritant under certain circumstances, but does not pose a health risk."
Tim Hardin, the state indoor-air-quality program manager, has not investigated the Snoqualmie Ridge allegations, but he said fiberglass, while not likely to have toxic effects, is a "very powerful irritant" that could have caused the health problems the families say they had.
Snoqualmie officials inspected a small number of homes last year and discovered fiberglass insulation in the return-air spaces leading to the furnaces, a violation of the city building code. They sent a letter to hundreds of Snoqualmie Ridge residents with Quadrant-built homes warning them of the potential problem.
The city received "some calls" from residents after the letter, and every known code violation was fixed, City Administrator Bob Larson said.
Most of the families involved in the lawsuits want large-scale cleanups of their homes that would remove any trace of the glass fibers, including replacement of carpets and repainting of walls. They say Quadrant offered more-comprehensive cleanups to at least two homeowners, but then offered just a new furnace filter and insulation removal to subsequent families.
Quadrant officials declined to give details about what they offered homeowners.
Some of the families say they still suffer health problems, even after spending thousands of dollars cleaning up their homes.
Daniel and Jean Saimo bought their four-bedroom home five years ago for $305,000. They say they've spent about $4,200 to clean the house so far, but the maladies have not entirely gone away.
"I'm trying to get the safe home I thought I was purchasing from [Quadrant]. ... I want my house made right," Jean Saimo said.