Woman turns chemical sensitivity into business

July 14, 1997


Staff Writer

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W. Va. - Earle Meek began having health problems shortly after she became pregnant nearly 30 years ago.

She experienced high blood pressure, a rapid heartbeat and fainting spells. Sometimes she was so weak she needed a wheelchair.

The symptoms worsened until she had to give up teaching at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick, Md., in 1983.

As soon as she stopped teaching, she felt better.

Several more years would pass before Meek realized that she had environmental illness, a sensitivity to chemicals in buildings. Now she's earning a living from her affliction as a consultant to other people with the same problem, advising them how to build homes free of chemical contamination.


Looking back, Earle Meek, 57, and her husband Ted, 60, remembered that the school in Frederick had been sprayed with pesticide every three months and that she had taught in a new building.

They decided to leave Frederick and embarked on something of an odyssey to find a place where Earle was more comfortable.

"We thought we'd travel to a place where the air was nice and clean. Little did we know that the travel trailer had formaldehyde in the carpet and propane fumes," Ted Meek said.

In their travels they found a doctor, Allan Lieberman in Charleston, S.C., who specializes in occupational and environmental medicine. He diagnosed Earle Meek with environmental illness and told the couple they'd have to get out of the trailer for the sake of her health.

"Earle was having problems with asthma, headaches, fatigue and weakness, but her symptoms were better when she was out of her house. I issued an order for her to get out of her house," Lieberman said.

He said at least 15 percent of Americans have health problems from living and working in sick buildings, and that the Environmental Protection Agency has recognized sick building syndrome as a significant health problem.

"Awareness of this problem is the first step in getting back your health," Lieberman said.

Earle Meek said she started getting better with Lieberman's treatments, and so she and her husband set out to find a place to live far from a city and pesticide or gas fumes.

The Meeks found a spot in Morgan County, W.Va., and moved the trailer there for the year it took for their "healthy" house to be built.

For Earle Meek to live in the 40-foot trailer required three air filters, and she always had to have a personal air filter around her neck and an oxygen tank available.

They had to make sure the workers building the house didn't contaminate the structure with such things as cigarette smoke or after shave, Ted Meek said.

"We called a lot of people with environmental illness to see what to do and what not to do, and we read a lot of books," he said.

Earle Meek said they had to make sure that each material used in the construction of the house didn't affect her, and in the end they still had to seal off the attic from the rest of the house with aluminum foil in case the wood used on the roof caused a reaction.

"The price of a safe house will run 25 percent more than a conventional home," Ted Meek said. "We wanted to use metal for the roof, but it would have cost $10,000."

After living in their home for four years, using nontoxic products and eating a special diet of organic foods recommended by her doctor, Earle Meek's health has improved dramatically.

In June 1996, the Meeks started their own business, Clarity House, which helps people build "safe" houses. They realized after many people asked them about their house that there was a need for their business.

Earle Meek's brother-in-law, an architect who designed their house, is a partner, as is her sister.

"We help people find property for a healthy home, and fix their current house so that it is livable enough for the time it takes to build their special house," Earle Meek said.

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