Think Green, Be Green," read the brochure for the Arbors at Antelope housing development. So in June 2008, young parents John and Shelby Rodriguez rented a house there, in part because "they seemed environmentally friendly," says Shelby. "I try to stay away from many chemicals."
But soon after moving into the community outside Sacramento, the Rodriguezes were stunned by fumes from asphalt used to reroof the development's 534 units. "It wasn't just one house," says John. At home most of the day, Shelby and daughter Elise, then 4, felt nauseated. Shelby developed nose sores and was diagnosed with intermittent asthma, which got worse when roofers worked. Neighbors experienced similar symptoms. She read up on the chemicals in asphalt and their suspected links to illness. Citing an EPA-commissioned report that showed chemicals known to be harmful are present in asphalt, "it seemed appropriate to find other materials," says Luis Garcia-Bakarich, an EPA coordinator. Even armed with this information, Shelby, 33, could not persuade the Arbors to switch materials, so she called state representatives and environmental groups. By invoking a nuisance-odor rule, an air quality board compelled the owners to use a different material. "There is no proof that [the prior] method would create any health hazards," says a spokesman for Carmel Partners, which owns the Arbors. "But as a result of her concerns, we are also looking for other alternatives." Her neighbors think she's a hero. Says Stacey Edie, who lives nearby: "We call Shelby the Erin Brockovich of Antelope."