Katrina and Jonathon Rende have a variance from the city of Troy to keep this 36-foot travel trailer in their driveway, which they have slept in after they noticed a smell in their home from an oil-like substance in their sump pump May 1.

Katrina and Jonathon Rende have a variance from the city of Troy to keep this 36-foot travel trailer in their driveway, which they have slept in after they noticed a smell in their home from an oil-like substance in their sump pump May 1.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


Toxic fumes force Troy family from home

By: Terry Oparka | Troy Times | Published July 9, 2019

 Jonathon and Katrina Rende stand in their backyard June 28, where their deck was removed to test the soil for toxicity.

Jonathon and Katrina Rende stand in their backyard June 28, where their deck was removed to test the soil for toxicity.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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TROY — Katrina Rende said they noticed the smell May 1.

She and husband Jonathon Rende have lived in their ranch-style home on Shallowdale Drive with their 10 children, eight of them still living at home, for 11 years.

“The kids said, ‘The basement stinks,’” Katrina said.

Then Jonathon discovered a substance, “black as crude oil,” in their sump pump. They called the Troy Fire Department, and firefighters tried unsuccessfully to flush the substance out for two hours.

When the family purchased the home in 2008, the former owner had disclosed that contamination was discovered in the backyard in 2003, but they were told that it had been cleaned up, Katrina said. The home passed inspections by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the city of Troy.

“They said it was good to go and all cleaned up,” Katrina said.

However, they learned that radon lids on top of the sump pump and vents on the roof had been removed.

Paul Owens, the district supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy — formerly the MDEQ — for southeast Michigan, confirmed that in 2003, a previous owner had discovered oil in the sump pump and that the MDEQ had sealed the sump pump, vented the odors outside, dug out an old oil drum and removed some soil, which they believed had alleviated the contamination.

He also confirmed that when inspectors went back out in early May, the sump pump was open again.

Katrina said she would not have bought the house if the seal and vents had been there, adding that the family never planned to stay in the home forever. “Who’s going to buy this house now?”

The family cannot stay in the home for longer than 40 minutes at a time, Katrina said, due to the toxins, which trigger seizures in one child and make her husband ill. He is a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and has been on disability since 2002 due to nerve damage, lack of stamina and other issues, and is unable to work as an engineer.

So the family lives in a 36-foot-long, 300-square-foot RV in the driveway, which required a variance from the city of Troy. The Rendes paid a portion of the cost; an anonymous donor paid for the rest of it.

Katrina said the only hotel that could give them adjoining rooms cost $2,000 per week, and she could not cook in the room, which precluded that as an option.

The MDEGLE again sealed the pump and vented air from the area outside the home.

Air scrubbers were installed in the home, which were turned off June 24. “Recent indoor (air) samples showed no problems,” Owens said.

“It appears the contaminated soil around the house got into the sump,” Owens said. He said that they used ground-penetrating radar to identify the areas of contamination and soil samples to determine what the substance is. He said they are waiting for results and may test the soil further. They will not remove the soil until they pinpoint what the substance is, he said.

The MDEGLE will mitigate the cost of removing the contaminant, but not the costs for replacing furniture, mattresses or carpet, which Katrina said have absorbed the toxins. At press time, she said the air inside the home was still toxic, despite the findings of the MDEGLE.

 

Family says home is uninhabitable
“If you are inside for more than 40 minutes, your eyes are burning,” she said. “Your mouth gets cottony, and my husband gets the gagging reflex. The chemical still has to be there.”

“It seems isolated to the particular lot,” Owens said. “There are no signs of a major landfill.”

He added that the family could address health issues with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Oakland County Health Division and their doctor.

Katrina said their homeowners insurance “will not cover anything.”

The family only goes into the home to shower, bathe and use the bathroom, Katrina said. She starts to cook dinner inside the home, then finishes up outdoors. “The kids can’t play in the backyard,” she said. “They can’t go into the house to play with their toys.”

Some clothes are kept on poles in the family van. If clothes are retrieved from inside the home, Katrina launders them before they are worn.

Although the contamination is believed to be only in the backyard, the grass on the side of the house cannot be mowed. The city issued a variance for this also.

Cindy Stewart, the community affairs director for the city of Troy, said the city became aware of the Rendes’ living arrangements when they needed a variance from the Code Enforcement Department to keep the RV trailer in their driveway.

The RV trailer was inspected by the city and connected to water in the home. DTE Energy inspected the 30-amp outlet from the house that the Rendes installed to operate the RV trailer.

“Kim Ethridge, of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, advised us of ground stakes related to their investigation and did not want mowing to affect them,” Paul Evans, the zoning and compliance specialist for the city of Troy, said via email. “The Troy zoning ordinance allows temporary dwellings on property where the house has become uninhabitable.”

Stonehaven Church donated the wood needed to stabilize the trailer. Stewart said she also approached service organizations, individuals and businesses to help the Rendes. Donations from the Troy Women’s Association, the Rotary Club of Troy and a number of businesses secured funds for memberships at the Boys & Girls Club of Troy and two passes to the Troy Family Aquatic Center.

The Rende children attend the Boys & Girls Club each afternoon and take turns using the passes to the aquatic center.

“We’re trying to make the best of it,” Katrina said. “It’s hot.”

There is a GoFund Me page for the Rendes. Visit gofundme.com/rende-temporary-housing-fundraising.

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