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Arizona Mold Inspection
Originally published by Phoenix New Times Feb 01, 2001
©2005 New Times, Inc. All rights reserved.
Gilbert, Arizona, mom says
apartment mold has caused health problems
BY CALEB CORREA
In September, Crystal Todd happened to catch a television documentary
that surprised her. The program, on the health effects of water damage and
mold in homes and buildings, could have starred Todd and her 8-year-old son.
For five years, Todd and her son, Connor, lived in the Vista Montaña
Apartments on Baseline Road in Gilbert. Todd says she and Connor were sick
95 percent of the time. Constant coughing, allergic reactions and lack of
sleep were symptoms Todd now attributes to high levels of mold in the
The unit is on the first floor of a three-story building, is partially
underground and receives no sunlight. Over the years, water from busted
water heaters, leaky pipes and faulty gutters in upstairs units seeped into
and settled inside Todd's walls, breeding countless patches of green and
blackish mold that make the apartment an unlivable "biohazard," according to
a lawsuit she's now filed in Superior Court.
The suit, filed last month, accuses CJ Management Inc., the Phoenix-based
complex owner, of not providing a "safe, sanitary and habitable apartment."
The lawsuit also alleges neglect, claiming the company was aware of health
hazards associated with mold but that company officials never told Todd
about the risks.
Lanae Rossi, property manager for CJ Management, says she can't comment
on the case. "I have been advised by legal counsel that the lawsuit is
public record and you could get a copy of it," she says.
Todd, 33, says the apartment flooded at least once a year while she lived
In July of last year, the unit was flooded four times, mainly in the
bathrooms. In months prior to the flooding, Todd says she would often hear
drops of water plopping inside the bathroom walls. She says a maintenance
worker tapping the wall for damage stuck his hand through the drywall under
the toilet and pulled out a soggy clump of chalk.
Todd initially thought nothing of it, but the television documentary
seemed to be speaking directly to her situation. She wrote a letter to the
management office requesting a mold test be conducted in the apartment. Todd
says the company initially refused but agreed to replace her plumbing.
In October, when the drywall had been removed to repair the pipes, Todd
paid $1,000 for Environmental Research Consultants in Chandler to conduct
the mold test.
James Dohm, executive researcher for ERC, says the test revealed
above-average levels of two molds -- penicillium and
aspergillus. A sample of stachybotrys mold was found on a
chunk of drywall sitting on Todd's porch, but it was unclear if it had come
from inside the apartment.
Penicillium is common in households but can cause respiratory
problems in some allergy sufferers, Dohm says.
Aspergillus and stachybotrys, in a worst-case scenario, produce
toxins that can cause serious health conditions including nerve damage, Dohm
Stachybotrys is believed to cause bleeding lungs in infants, according to
research by the Case Western University School of Medicine in Cleveland.
The management company also sent in its own tester, ACT Environmental
Inc. of Tucson, but found that mold levels were not at an unsafe level.
"They basically gave her the clean bill of health, and our results did
not show that," Dohm says.
After the mold test, Dohm suggested that Todd move out of the apartment
because her son already had health problems that could worsen if they
stayed. In late October, Todd and her son moved in with her mom in Mesa.
"Generally, this place is wonderful for its lack of mold," says David
Feuerherd, vice president of programs for the state chapter of the American
Lung Association. "The problem occurs always -- always -- inside of walls
where leaks are occurring. It's the only place in Arizona where it can
manifest itself. The problem is that in most cases it's not visible."
Cases in Arizona involving mold contamination are relatively few,
"You live in the desert, compared to, say, Seattle or moldy, wet, damp
places in the world."
Still, last year, reported cases of mold contamination closed high
schools in Prescott and Yuma. A pet supply store in Phoenix and a bank in
Tucson also were shut down because of mold.
Once Todd got the test results, she asked management to clean up the mold
and replace or clean any furniture, clothing or other items that might have
been infected with mold spores. The company refused, and she called an
Now, she wants her property cleaned and the company to pay her medical
bills associated with mold-related symptoms.
"What I want is for them to take responsibility," Todd says. "Sadly, the
way to make the biggest impact is through money."
Most important, she says, "My son is out of his home."
When they moved to her mother's, it was like a vacation for a while, she
But soon Connor was asking for his books, his toys -- his GameBoy,
especially. But under the advice of her attorney, Todd has left all the
items in the apartment, partly because they're contaminated and also because
they might be needed in the lawsuit. Todd, a single mother working on a
master's degree in social work at Arizona State University, has replaced
some clothing and toys but can't afford to do much more.
A few weeks ago, Todd's attorney went into the apartment to check recent
plumbing repairs. He lifted the carpet from the closet floor and with a
putty knife scraped off a gooey substance mixed with rotted wood.
Some of the carpet was still wet. And, Todd says, the apartment owners
"still don't think there's a problem."
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