PORTSMOUTH — A federal lawsuit, alleging faulty construction led to mold in apartments at the 100-unit Wamesit Place housing complex, is scheduled for a 2019 trial, while a defendant contractor now alleges “inadequate maintenance” caused the problem.
The lawsuit was filed by Portsmouth attorney John Bosen, on behalf of the Wamesit Place Family Housing Limited Partnership, and claims mold remediation will require a “massive” amount of work and the temporary relocation of some residents. The Portsmouth Housing Authority manages the Wamesit Place apartments on Greenleaf Avenue and its director, Craig Welch, previously told the Portsmouth Herald he can’t discuss the litigation, but said no residents’ health is at risk.
In a joint report to the U.S. District Court of New Hampshire, the parties summarize Wamesit’s lawsuit as pertaining to the 2015 discovery of “ventilation problems” linked to renovations in 2012. Wamesit claims “mold, specifically Alternaria and Cladosporium,” was found in Wamesit apartments and “is growing because humid exhaust air is accumulating and saturating insulation in ceilings and attics.” The mold was due to “missing and/or improper installation of the soffits and ventilation systems in the ceilings of the apartments,” the suit alleges.
Wamesit names Portland Builders as a defendant and that contractor now claims that during construction, Wamesit requested change orders which eliminated attic insulation, ventilation “and other work that was part of the original contract.”
“The conditions of which Wamesit complains, including the presence of mold, were pre-existing and/or due to inadequate building maintenance over the course of many years and not due to any act or omission of Portland Builders,” the joint court motion states. In addition, Portland Builders claims, Wamesit waived claims for “consequential damages” and warranties related to correction of nonconforming work was limited to one year.
Wamesit has also named Goduti-Thomas Architects as a defendant and that firm now contends any claims against it are barred by the statue of limitations.
In a joint motion to the U. S. District Court of New Hampshire, all parties noted they need to further explore issues of insurance coverage, the initial scope of the project, change orders, other contractors who worked on the project and the date when Wamesit discovered the mold. The court has scheduled a trial date of June 4, 2019.
When the $5.8 million renovation project was announced in May 2011, former PHA director Joe Couture said work entailed replacement of all roofs, siding, doors, windows, kitchens, bathrooms and flooring, in addition to new paint jobs and appliances.
Listen: Latest From the Newsroom
Welch said the mold that was identified was not a toxic variety of “black mold” and that as mold was detected, it was eliminated. In some cases, he said, mold returned, it was tested and “remediated quickly. Due to health concerns, Wamesit was forced to perform, and/or hired third parties to perform mold remediation,” the lawsuit alleges. “The scope of work to thoroughly inspect and comprehensively evaluate the conditions throughout the apartment is massive.”
The “massive” undertaking, according to the lawsuit, will include removing all insulation, cleaning all surfaces in ceilings and attics, replacing ceiling drywall, re-insulating to allow for proper ventilation, replacing bathroom fans and missing duct work to roof vents. Welch previously said “a couple dozen” housing units were affected over the past five years, but he could not comment about whether all 100 will have to be renovated.
Wamesit alleges breach of contract and negligence and seeks attorney’s fees for bringing the case to court.
Representing Portland Builders, attorney Douglas Steele denies all the allegations and claims Wamesit failed to take reasonable steps to mitigate its damages.
A former Johnson C. Smith University employee claims the school fired her after she filed a workers’ compensation complaint due to contracting a mold-induced illness.
According to a lawsuit, Christine Taylor, who was a full-time post officer manager at the university, said her and other employees learned they were exposed to mold in their office after “an environmental agency evaluated and assessed the area.”
The incident happened in March 2016 and Taylor claims she was suffering from severe headaches, congestion, fatigue, allergic reactions, a burning tongue and chronic coughing when she learned about the mold exposure, the lawsuit states.
Taylor then reportedly told her manager and a HR representative about her symptoms who then choose her a healthcare provider. The lawsuit states that Taylor’s healthcare provider told her that “she should not return to work in that environment.” A month later, Taylor claims her and other employees were relocated to another building on the university’s campus but she continued to have similar symptoms.
The lawsuit states that the university refused to pay for Taylor’s medical treatment. She then filed a workers’ compensation claim “in an effort to continue to get the medical care she needed for treatment of the symptoms she continued to have as a result of the mold exposure.”
The plaintiff claims that she continued seeking medical care and in November 2016 she reportedly was diagnosed with Aspergillosis. The lawsuit states that the infection is caused by exposure to mold spores in the work environment. Taylor’s physician allegedly told her that if she continued working in that office then it would be “detrimental to her health,” according to the lawsuit.
After contacting her employer to determine whether her accommodation could be granted, the university allegedly eliminated her position and told her that she would be “terminated if she could not transition into another position.” The university said they terminated her position due to “budget issues,” the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit claims that HR told Taylor that she was qualified for another position but she disagreed. That is when Taylor claims she was terminated from her job, according to the lawsuit.
According to the lawsuit, the university informed employees that the location was free from mold in September, however, Taylor claims that was false since the area reportedly continued to have “leaking and missing ceiling tiles, HVAC and other issues that could be harmful to those employees exposed to such an environment.”
She says that her office had a history of mold contamination and employees were exposed in 2009, resulting in the staff being relocated to another building for some time, according to the lawsuit.
Taylor claims that the university fired her in “retaliation” after she filed a workers’ compensation claim, an OSHA complaint, demanded that her civil rights be protected and due to disability discrimination.
The lawsuit states that Taylor wants “compensatory damages for pecuniary losses, emotional pain, physical illness, personal sickness and mental anguish in excess of $25,000. Taylor is also asking for punitive damages in excess of $25,000 and treble damages in excess of $25,000.
In the past several months, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria left paths of destruction worth billions of dollars. The natural disasters destroyed or damaged tens of thousands of homes, business, schools and other properties across hundreds of square miles of the United States.
Each of these hurricanes brought with it excessive moisture, flooding and standing water. Any of these can result in the growth of mold in homes and other buildings impacted or damaged by the storm. Due to this fact and the scale to which hurricanes and other natural disasters can cause damage, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information on the agency’s website specifically warning people to be aware of mold exposure risks following these types of disasters.
The CDC reports that in flooded or water damaged properties that have experienced mold growth, people who are sensitive to mold may experience stuffy nose, irritated eyes, wheezing or skin irritation. People allergic to mold may have difficulty in breathing and shortness of breath. Those with weakened immune systems and with chronic lung diseases, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs if exposed to certain types of mold.
“Whenever returning to a home or business that has been flooded for more than a day or two, it’s important to recognize that mold is likely present and may cause significant exposure concerns,” said Franco Seif, President at Clark Seif Clark. “In almost all circumstances, the only way to prevent mold growth in a water damaged building is to have it thoroughly cleaned up and comprehensively dried within 24 to 48 hours. Unfortunately, following these types of events, that is almost never possible.”
To help in these situations, Clark Seif Clark’s building science and water damage experts provide indoor environmental quality assessments, testing and monitoring services. If mold or other microbial problems are found, CSC provides oversight and post remediation testing to ensure these issues are comprehensively addressed to protect both workers and future building occupants. Clark Seif Clark also recently sponsored an educational video about mold contamination following a natural disaster that can be seen here:
Mold that grows within facilities and goes untreated can trigger asthma and cause a host of health problems for building occupants, including respiratory infections and eye and throat irritations.
When the Philadelphia School District received a report in early October 2017, of “possible mold” at an elementary school, within hours the district closed the school, saying it found “traces of mold” in several classrooms, according to a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Building inspectors found more than 600 square feet of mold in 10 classrooms and an additional 400 square feet of the fungus in 15 other places at a 650-student school, including hallways, bathrooms, and closets.
As far back as 2015, teachers repeatedly alerted district and union officials to mold, leaking pipes, and ventilation problems.
In November 2015, after teachers complained of respiratory problems and illness, the school district and the teachers’ union discovered widespread mold on chairs, desks, and ceiling pipes. It was so extensive in music rooms that the spaces were deemed “unusable,” according to a report prepared by an environmental scientist for the teachers’ union.
District spokesman Kevin Geary said when the district first learned of “some potential issues” with mold, technicians went to investigate within an hour. The problem was caused by heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning malfunctions, he said.
Steps to remediate the mold have been taken by school superintendent William R. Hite Jr. “We will have someone out there ASAP to look into this,” says Hite. “The safety and health of our students and staff is our highest priority,” said Geary. “The School District will not reopen the school until it is mold-free.”