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Allergic Woman Seeks Breathing Room Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Has Made Nomads Of The Couple And Depleted Their Life Savings

The most striking thing about Kevin and Sandra Lennon’s home in Post Falls is the utter lack of any odors.

No potpourris, no floor wax, no new carpeting … nothing at all.

About a year ago, Sandra Lennon says, she came down with multiple chemical sensitivity. Victims of the little-understood malady apparently are allergic to myriads of everyday chemicals.

Perfume, wallpaper, the ink this newspaper is printed with - almost anything, Lennon says - can trigger her severe flulike attacks. Her doctors in Spokane and Seattle say her symptoms are real and severe.

“It gets real old, real quick,” Lennon said recently at her Post Falls home. “I have no life.”

Soon, however, she also may have no home. Due to a zoning violation, Kootenai County officials are trying to get the Lennons to move.

In the year since she first showed signs of the illness, Lennon and her husband have bought, gutted, cleaned and moved into three different homes. Each time, she said, she came down with terrible aches and sinus pressure. Each time, they moved out. So far, they say, they’ve lost nearly $20,000 - their life savings. Sandra, 45, says she has gone from 138 to 90 pounds.

Finally, their longtime friend Tom Torrano offered them use of a vacant mobile home on his five-acre lot on Prairie Avenue. Torrano, 44, and his wife live in a larger mobile home on the lot. Torrano, who owns an excavating company, says he doesn’t charge them rent.

The Lennons moved in, scrubbed everything down and set up their heavy-duty air purifier. Everything was OK.

“It’s been a port in a storm,” said Kevin Lennon, 44, who works for a Spokane masonry company. “This gives us a roof over our heads.”

Still, their life is far from normal. They have almost no furniture in the home because Sandra reacted to the dyes and foam padding. New clothes hang on an outdoor clothesline for weeks to dissipate the dyes and chemical fumes. When Kevin Lennon comes home from work, he takes a shower - using baking soda instead of soap. When they went to a wedding recently, they sat far away from the rest of the crowd.

“Your perspective really changes,” Sandra Lennon said. “I was a really busy person with lots of friends and family. Now I’m really lonely and frustrated, because I can’t get close to them.”

Since his wife can’t leave the house without reacting to chemicals, Kevin Lennon is singlehandedly trying to sell their last house, find a new one, shop, hold down his job and care for his wife.

Initially skeptical of his wife’s claims, he said he was convinced when she reacted to sunscreen or other chemicals he’d been exposed to - that she had no way of knowing about.

“Some people contend that this is not a true physical illness, but an emotional illness,” said Sandra Lennon. “I wish it was (an emotional illness), so I could get psychoanalyzed and get it fixed.”

Torrano’s land is zoned agricultural, so he’s allowed to have one residence and a few outbuildings. The mobile home would be OK, said Kootenai County Planning Director Cheri Howell, if he was just storing it there. But county law prohibits two residences on his lot.

The county has given Torrano until Dec. 10 to get the Lennons out of their mobile home. They, meanwhile, are simultaneously trying to sell their last home and look for a new “clean” home.

“We’re just asking for more time,” said Sandra Lennon. “Maybe if people understood the situation, they’d be a little more lenient.”

“Mr. Torrano needs to take the opportunity to try and appeal our interpretation of the ordinance or bring in some medical documentation for us to examine,” Howell said Monday. “He has declined to provide that information to us.”

Torrano says he tried, but a woman who works for Howell wouldn’t listen or look at the letters from Sandra Lennon’s doctors.

“She couldn’t have cared less,” he said. “She just cut me off.”

In some cases, Howell said, people can get “temporary hardship permits” allowing them to have more than one residence on a lot. Typically, the permits are given to people who want to live near sick or elderly relatives.

“We have asked him to at least communicate with us,” Howell said. “I think that would go a long way toward resolving that issue.”

Torrano said he’ll pay the $275 fee to appeal the case. What he’s not going to do, he said, is kick his friends out of what is apparently the only place where they can live right now.

“This is very humbling,” said Sandra Lennon. “We’ve always taken care of ourselves, been very stable. Now we have to rely on our friends.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition.

Cut in the Spokane edition.