Lawsuit over mold in Portsmouth housing set for trial

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.

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.

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Lawsuit: JCSU fired employee in ‘retaliation’ after mold-induced illness


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.

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Disneyland shuts down 2 cooling towers after Legionnaires’ disease sickens park visitors

Disneyland has shut down two bacteria-contaminated cooling towers after Orange County health officials discovered several cases of Legionnaires’ disease in people who had visited the Anaheim theme park, authorities said.

Twelve cases of the bacteria-caused illness were discovered about three weeks ago among people who had spent time in Anaheim and included nine people who had visited Disneyland in September before developing the illness, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. Their ages ranged from 52 to 94.

The remaining three were Orange County residents who did not visit the park but lived or traveled in Anaheim.

Ten were hospitalized and one person “with additional health issues” died, according to health officials. That person did not visit Disneyland.

Legionnaires’ is a severe lung infection caused by exposure to contaminated water or mist. Authorities said they have not tied any other cases of Legionnaires’ to Anaheim since September.

“There is no known ongoing risk associated with this outbreak,” the healthcare agency said in a statement.

The towers are in a backstage area near the New Orleans Square Train Station, each more than 100 feet from areas accessible to guests, a Disneyland Resort spokeswoman said Friday. A Disneyland employee is among those who fell ill with the disease.

“On Oct. 27, we learned from the Orange County Health Care Agency of increased Legionnaires’ disease cases in Anaheim. We conducted a review and learned that two cooling towers had elevated levels of Legionella bacteria,” Dr. Pamela Hymel, chief medical officer for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, said in a statement Friday. “These towers were treated with chemicals that destroy the bacteria and are currently shut down.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified county authorities about three weeks ago of several cases of the disease among people who had traveled to Orange County in September. County epidemiologists discovered that a cluster of people diagnosed with the disease had recently visited, lived or worked in Anaheim and contacted Disney after learning that several of them had gone to the theme park.

According to the health agency, on Nov. 3 Disney reported that routine testing had detected elevated levels of Legionella in two cooling towers a month earlier, and the towers had been disinfected. Disney took the towers out of service on Nov. 1, performed more testing and disinfection, and brought them back into service on Nov. 5.

Disney took the towers out of service again on Tuesday in advance of an order the health agency issued the following day requiring they remain down until test results verify they are free from Legionella contamination.

The towers had been turned off on Nov. 1 before Disney learned that Legionella had been detected, Disneyland Resort spokeswoman Suzi Brown said. “The only reason they were turned back on was as part of the further disinfection process.”

The county health agency has also alerted healthcare providers to look for Legionnaires’ disease in anyone who may have become ill after visiting Anaheim or Disneyland before Nov. 7.

It takes two to 10 days for symptoms of Legionnaires’ to appear.

The disease is caused by Legionella bacteria that grow in water and can spread when small droplets get into the air and people breathe them in, according to the CDC. Outbreaks are often traced to hot tubs, decorative fountains, cooling towers and large air-conditioning systems that emit water vapor into the air. Legionnaires’ is not spread person to person.

The illness can be treated with antibiotics and hospital care, but about 1 in 10 people who get Legionnaires’ disease die from the infection. Most at risk are people older than 50 with weakened immune systems or chronic lung diseases.

Orange County has recorded more than 55 cases of the disease this year and has seen the number of cases jump in recent years. A similar upward trend has been seen nationally and elsewhere in Southern California, according to the healthcare agency, though what’s causing that is unclear.

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Mold contamination prompts New Jersey district to close all 6 of its schools for at least a week

WPVI-TV reports that the schools—one high, one middle and four elementary—will be closed so inspections can be completed. The district has about 6,200 students.

The announcement of the closings comes just hours before an emergency school board meeting is to be held regarding the situation.

The situation began with the discovery of mold inside Holly Glen Elementary School. The district closed that campus last Friday and was preparing to split the student body among the three remaining elementary schools.

In light of the additional school closings, plans to have teachers prepare replacement classrooms have been postponed, and an open house for students and parents at their temporary schools also has been canceled.

Last week, the district closed Holly Glen after a consultant, TTI Environmental Inc., found dangerous mold growing throughout the school on doors, desks, book cases, lockers, ceiling tiles and other areas. The consultant recommended that Holly Glen be closed and thoroughly cleaned.

“Based on the information provided and the results of our visual investigation and sampling, TTI recommends that the school be closed until cleaning and additional evaluation be conducted to insure the safety of the children and staff,” the consultant’s report stated.

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OSHA Extends Enforcement Deadline for Construction Silica Rule

Contracting firms that can demonstrate they are attempting to comply with a new federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration limit on silica dust levels in construction workplaces will have a 30-day grace period before they are hit with penalties.

OSHA did begin enforcing the construction silica regulation on Sept. 23. But Thomas Galassi, Labor Dept. acting deputy assistant secretary, said in a Sept. 20 memo to regional OSHA administrators that, for 30 days, the agency’s compliance officers will not issue penalties to employers that demonstrate a “good faith effort” to meet the new requirements.

Companies that do not appear to be taking steps to comply, however, may receive citations, Galassi said. [View OSHA construction compliance fact sheet here.]

A coalition of construction industry groups has challenged the rule in federal court, saying it is not technically or economically feasible and does not take into consideration the constantly changing nature of construction work.

The coalition, which includes the Associated General Contractors of America, the Associated Builders and Contractors, and the National Association of Home Builders, has asked OSHA to withdraw the rule and work with industry to develop a new standard.

A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia heard oral arguments in the case on Sept. 26.

Labor unions and worker advocates say that exposure to silica dust causes a host of illnesses, including silicosis and lung cancer, and that technologies to protect workers are available and inexpensive.

OSHA says that the rule will save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis each year.

The standard, finalized in March, establishes a new eight-hour, time-weighted average permissible exposure limit of 50 µg/m  , approximately one-fifth the previous maximum.

Under the new standard, employers also must develop a written exposure-control plan that identifies tasks that might be expose workers to silica dust and methods used to protect workers.

Additionally, companies must train employees to limit exposures and keep records of workers’ silica exposure and medical exams. The regulation provides flexibility for small businesses, through a table that lists a variety of paths to achieve lower silica exposures.

Industry reaction

Kevin Cannon, AGC’s senior director of safety and health services, says that, although the 30-day extension gives employers more time to better understand how to comply, he is disappointed that it falls short of what industry has been asking for.

“I still think the industry needs more time,” says Cannon, who adds that the new standard “is very complex.” Moreover, OSHA’s compliance assistance seems to be limited to site visits. But “that will only be a few people” to cover the many employers that will need guidance, he says. Cannon adds that AGC has sought to find out the criteria OSHA will use to determine what a “good faith” effort is. But, “at this point, I don’t think they’ve identified what it means to make a good faith effort,” he says, noting that contractors that do nothing can still be cited.

Daniel Annon, a senior industrial hygienist and past president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association, says that though AIHA supports the rule and is eager to see it go into effect, 30 more days to help employers understand how to comply could be helpful in the long run.

Annon says, “If they see that a company is making an attempt that is in line with the expectations [of the rule], but falling short, if their goal is compliance assistance and helping those employers be able to do a better job in the long term of protecting workers, that seems reasonable.”

He notes, however, that “it is unfortunate that there is that pushback from employers” that say the rule is difficult to comply with because “we’ve known since the 1930s that silica causes silicosis…and a lot of the same technologies that we were talking about then are the same ones we are talking about now.”

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Amid muck and mold, tackling a Texas-sized cleanup after Harvey

Lino Saldana is salvaging parts like doorknobs to save

In Kashmere Gardens, a historically black neighborhood and one of this city’s poorest, the floodwaters have receded, but sorrow is on full display in the piles that line the street.

Heaps of soggy carpet padding. Chunks of drywall. Splintered boards, broken dressers and moldering mattresses.

A television. A teddy bear. Family photographs and a Holy Bible, thick and leather-bound.

It smells musty. Sour, even.

Ten days after then-Hurricane Harvey blew into these people’s lives — then lingered for days as a weakening storm, dumping epic rainfall on the nation’s fourth-largest city and its environs — the task of cleaning up is daunting. Much of it falls on individuals like Sonia Saldana and her family, and the strangers helping them.

Saldana watched from her driveway on Minden Street as a group of young volunteers from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, clad in neon orange and yellow safety vests, hauled out drywall and insulation and threw it on her family’s growing pile by the curb. Inside, the house was virtually gutted, with walls ripped out and the furniture gone.

“I’m not a very materialistic person,” Saldana said. “We can replace our clothes, our bed, our furniture. But family, you can’t replace.”

As the grueling cleanup gathered pace, some of the flood’s vast array of dangers abated, if only slightly. The fire department in Crosby, 25 miles northeast of Houston, on Monday lifted an evacuation order covering a radius of 1.5 miles around a chemical plant where flames had erupted four days earlier.

By Monday, the storm’s death toll had surpassed 60, with bodies still being retrieved. Recovery efforts are expected to take years, at a cost that will run to $120 billion to $180 billion, by official estimates.

The personal toll is harder to calculate.

In Kashmere Gardens, the water rose as high as Saldana’s chest on Aug. 26, said the stay-at-home mother, who stands 5 feet 2.

Everyone she’s talked to plans to rebuild, she said, because this neighborhood is home. Her family does too.

Already, Houston has become two cities: a downtown once again bustling, with bars and restaurants full of patrons, businesses reopening and public transportation up and running again. Then there are the flood-ravaged neighborhoods where homeowners by the thousands are carrying out a vast do-it-yourself recovery effort, with most lacking flood insurance to help pay for it.

A few streets over from the Saldanas’ house, a man eyed the detritus on both sides of the street and assessed it this way: “Piles of people’s losses.”

Some losses, of course, went far beyond the material. Across town, grieving relatives were making funeral arrangements for Alonso Guillen, a 31-year-old volunteer rescuer whose body was recovered Sunday. His boat capsized last week while he and two friends were navigating treacherous floodwaters in search of those who needed saving.

Born in Mexico, Guillen was a so-called Dreamer, an immigrant brought illegally into the U.S. as a child. He was protected from deportation after enrolling in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which President Trump is said to be tentatively poised to scrap, with the order delayed for six months to give lawmakers a chance to find an alternative.

Guillen’s mother, who is applying for legal status, told the Houston Chronicle from her home in Piedras Negras, Mexico, that she had been turned back at the border while trying to travel to Lufkin, Texas, for the funeral, which was to take place Tuesday.

Back in Kashmere Gardens, Bridget Henderson looked on as possessions that had symbolized the joy of new life joined the scrap heap. After she gave birth to a premature baby girl a month ago, her family threw a baby shower, lavishing her and her husband with gifts — now ruined.

As the neighborhood flooded last weekend, Henderson and her family were evacuated from their home on Pardee Street, riding away on a city dump truck. On Sunday night, family members turned the damaged house inside out, hauling out furniture and other items.

Henderson has asthma, so she’s been trying to keep her distance, at least as much as possible. Amid a watery landscape now rife with public health threats including mold, filthy debris and sewage-filled flood remnants, authorities have advised people with respiratory issues to be particularly careful during cleanups.

The water invaded Henderson’s home on the night of Aug. 26, 24 hours after the hurricane made landfall.

“I was like, ‘Jesus, please don’t let this water keep rising,’” she recalled. “I don’t want it to touch my baby.”

Her eyes teared up when her husband came out of the house carrying a brand-new white cradle and threw it on the family’s growing garbage heap.

Nearby, a little boy wore a white mask over his nose and mouth as he rode his tricycle. On either side of the street, piles of trash towered over him.

For some who watched Texas’ ordeal from afar, new storm perils loomed. Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 storm, approached the islands of the eastern Caribbean on Monday, bringing with it the threat of battering waves, landslides and floods. Puerto Rico’s governor declared a state of emergency, and residents began battening down.

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