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ROAD WORK PAVES WAY TO HEALTH CRISIS

Before stepping into Barbara Ruel's Marilla home, visitors must go through a decontamination process to remove all scents, including shampoo, soap and deodorant.

The slightest exposure to chemicals makes her sick, and when the road near her home was repaved unexpectedly earlier this year, Ms. Ruel lapsed into convulsions, fits of vomiting and bleeding.

Erie County had promised to protect her from fumes from the repaving project by delaying the work until next summer so arrangements could be made for her safety.

But communications broke down somewhere, and a highway contractor went ahead with the job June 30.

"On a Monday morning, all of a sudden I'm very sick," she said.

"What happened to my house is the same as if your house burned down today," she explained. "My safe environment is gone. I'm going in and out of convulsions, vomiting, bleeding. I'm all infected. Every opening of my body is affected."

She also said she is at risk of losing two personal-care aides who have not been paid for 131 hours of extra work resulting from the fumes.

"When they quit, because they are not getting paid, I will die," said Ms. Ruel, speaking in gasps from her home on Liberia Road.

The bedding and upholstered furniture in her specially equipped house were contaminated as a result of the paving work, she said, forcing her to sleep on the floor.

The County Legislature will hold a special session Tuesday morning to act on her complaints. Two county departments are trying to pay Ms. Ruel's aides for the 131 hours of extra work and for decontaminating her home.

In return, the county attorney is demanding that Ms. Ruel sign a form releasing the county from all claims before she gets the $3,116 to pay her aides and begin the cleanup.

David Comerford, deputy county public works commissioner, told legislators in caucus Thursday that he learned of Ms. Ruel's sensitivities to chemicals and the danger to her health earlier this year when the state and county were planning to reconstruct Two Rod Bridge in Marilla.

"She convulses at just about anything," Comerford said. "A car idling in her driveway could set her off."

Comerford said he agreed to delay the Liberia Road repaving work until next summer so preparations could be made for her safety.

But to Comerford's surprise, a state contractor began the work in late June. The state, with the county's consent, was using Liberia Road as a detour and had agreed to repave it as part of the project.

Douglas Usiak, executive director of the Independent Living Center, notified Comerford of Ms. Ruel's situation. Comerford and Emily Kopacz Kaznica, county director of disabilities, tried to arrange help.

County officials agreed to try to tap the Bridge Design Fund for the 131 hours of personal care; they sought 400 plastic bags to store her possessions, four gallons of special soap to decontaminate surfaces, oxygen tubing, air purifiers and 20 rolls of aluminum foil to cover windows and seal off openings.

The Legislature failed to vote on the funding proposal for Ms. Ruel at its meeting Thursday.

Legislature Chairman Charles M. Swanick, D-Kenmore, called the special meeting for Tuesday after scheduling a seven-week recess.

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