CARTHAGE, N.C. — Frances Huffman calls her horses her babies.
She loves to show them, but these days she says she can't.
Frances says the Moore County Community Services Building where she used to work made her sick.
Now when she grooms her horses, she says she can barely breathe.
"When all this stuff started happening, we didn't put it off to the building," Huffman said. "We just thought it was us."
At least five of her co-workers say the same thing.
"The only thing we had in common was that building," says Dawn Kidd.
In the Beginning...
Carthage, N.C., is a town of 900 or so people. The controversy over the building has split the community, and the employees are fighting people they grew up with and worked alongside.
"I've known some of those people all of my life," says Moore County commissioner Mike Holden, pictured at right. "I don't want to hurt anybody."
At the same time, the chairman of the county commission doesn't buy that the building made them sick. "Do I believe they're sick? I believe they're sick," Holden says.
Asked if he believes their sickness came from that building, Holden says, "I have no reason to believe their sickness came from that building."
County Manager David McNeill has raised suspicions, noting "one employee said she hoped her illness was related to the building."
"I'm not going to say conclusively something I can't say just so they get money," Holden says.
Six employees have filed claims for workers' compensation. All have had their claims rejected.
When asked if the claims were the prelude to a multimillion dollar civil suit, the employees said no emphatically.
Howard Bunn is the chairman of the state Industrial Commission, which hears workers' compensation cases.
Bunn says that employees who ask the commission for a hearing can expect a fight.
"You can expect that you're going to get a great deal of opposition from the other side of the picture," he said.
Proving the building made them sick is a tall order. Repeated tests of the building turned up no significant levels of pollutants. Yet the county closed the building just the same.
"We're not saying the dollar is more important than these people," said Holden, the Moore County commission chairman. "We're not saying that. But we do have a responsibility to the people of Moore County."
Frances Huffman has quit the county and moved on to another job. She says she doesn't want money - she wants to get better.
"Money don't mean that much to me," Huffman said. "My husband works to make money, and I've always worked to make money. I want my health back. That's all I want."
The bigger picture...
This is not just a story about six people in Carthage, N.C.
The controversy over whether low doses of chemicals can make some people sick has set off a raging medical debate. At stake are billions of dollars for employers, the government and industry and the health of millions of Americans.