The Shelton family says they found what they believe was mold in their home on Fort Gordon. (May 25, 2011 / Photo courtesy Kourtney Shelton)
News 12 at 11 o'clock / Wednesday, May 25, 2011
AUGUSTA, Ga.---Imagine finding out your home, the place you eat, sleep, and live every day, could be making you sick. One family, living in military housing on Fort Gordon believe mold in their unit may have caused their 6-month daughter to stop breathing.
According to doctors, exposure to certain kinds of mold can cause respiratory problems.
Kourtney Shelton and her family just want to raise their children in a safe place. They came to Augusta last October, excited about where life's journey was taking them but they never expected it would take a dark turn.
Kourtney Shelton has been living in Augusta for about seven months, and she'll be the first to tell you, some of it hasn't been pleasant. "The last few months have just been horrible," Kourtney says.
Kourtney, her army husband, and their two children moved into military housing on Fort Gordon. For the first few weeks, she says her family stayed sick.
"When we were out of the home we all felt better so we started to think that maybe there was something going on inside our home," describes Kourtney.
It wasn't until they spotted, spots on their walls and air conditioning vents they started to get worried. "We had no idea at the time how big the problem was or anything," says Kourtney.
The family snapped pictures of the home. In them, you can see the A/C vent from the outside, and then from the inside. You can also see the air duct. In other places in the home you see paint peeling off the walls and water stains dripping from the breaker box. The family believes some of the pictures show mold. Kourtney says, "The pictures we took from our home are just disgusting."
Several months after moving in, 6-month old Evelyn stopped breathing. "That was by far the most scary and most traumatizing moment of my life," says Kourtney.
Multiple doctors treated Evelyn, but they did not agree on exactly what caused her to stop breathing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says mold exposure can cause respiratory problems in kids and adults.
"I went and met with the housing manager and I said, 'We have a big problem here,'" describes Kourtney.
Like many military bases, Fort Gordon's on-post housing is contracted out to Balfour Beatty, a British construction company that builds and maintains homes like the Shelton's for the U.S. Government.
"Perhaps it's ignorance, I don't know at that time I truly believed that the housing company would have been like...'oh I'm so sorry, let's make this right, let's make the situation better. Like wow, we really failed your family, let's look into this and move on, let's help make things better.' That was not at all what happened," explains Kourtney.
Balfour Beatty says they did do a visual inspection, and moisture readings. In a statement Balfour Beatty says: "Our readings did not indicate any problems typically associated with excessive moisture or mold growth."
Despite that comment, housing managers agreed to clean the ducts, repair the dry wall, and install new bathroom fans. Edwin Maner, and his company Duraclean Systems, was the company hired to clean up part of the problem.
"We were called out to do air duct cleaning, we went through the process of doing the duct cleaning and that's all we did no mold was discussed, so that's all we could do was what they told us to do and that was air duct cleaning," describes Maner.
Maner says testing would need to be done to be 100 percent sure, but he says this duct looks moldy, which is pricey to clean.
"Our recommendation would be to pull it out but a lot of costs are involved with that and most places would not do it. It's a several thousand dollar process," says Maner. "And obviously this didn't happen in this case?" Asks reporter Katie Beasley. "No ma'am," he responds. "That's years of painted on mold, dust, debris and that's probably the first cleaning that's it's ever gotten."
Kourtney Shelton says it wasn't until two months after the family complained about mold that Balfour Beatty hired someone to conduct an air quality test, and even then it wasn't done until base command at Fort Gordon requested it. "We brought in a third party air quality company to test this home. The results indicate the indoor levels of bio-aerosols do not pose any health concerns. We are confident in these results and in the safety of our residents."
But that test was done two months after the house had been cleaned, not before.
Kourtney says, inspectors never located a source of moisture and after the duct clean up, Balfour Beatty's solution was to move them back in to the same unit she still believed was dangerous.
"I tell everyone if you have mold in your house you have a moisture problem of some kind. Without moisture, there is no mold," explains Dr. Gena Bonitatibus, an Allergy and Immunology specialist.
"We will not under any circumstances move back into this home, we want a different unit and we want it to be tested before we move in," describes Kourtney.
Kourtney and her family eventually moved off post. She believes military families deserve much better from their government.
"It doesn't have to have marble counter-tops and hard wood floors but just basic safe living conditions, a basic safe home," she says. "A soldier stresses about enough, they don't need to worry whether their family is okay."
The mother of two simply can't believe families are being moved into housing that looks like this.
"If you have a serious housing issue you need to look into it if you really truly care about your tenants," adds Kourtney.
Balfour Beatty says they do care about their tenants, adding "We inspect our homes at multiple points throughout residency...prior to move in...anytime a maintenance technician is in a home... and whenever a resident reports a mold or moisture-related concern."
But Kourtney says the pictures prove, her unit was never inspected for mold before she moved in.
Although no others would go on camera with News 12, Kourtney wasn't the only Balfour Beatty resident we spoke with complaining about mold.
"A lot of people have come and talked to me about it and have said, hey, 'We have a mold problem too,'" says Kourtney. "For us we just knew we had to speak out, we had to get our story told. These are babies and who's gonna be their voice? Somebody has to."
As for her baby, Kourtney and her husband say they can't help but worry about her. "Our daughter could have asthma or other respiratory issues for the rest of her life. It's still really hard to sleep at night. Still, anytime she's too quiet we find ourselves running and checking and making sure she's okay. I don't think that's something that will ever leave us...never," describes Kourtney.
She says it's a feeling, she wants no other family to experience.
The Shelton's were paying more than $1,000 dollars a month in rent.
Both Dr. Bonatatibus and Edwin Maner say a lot of older homes built in the 60's and 70's were built with poor ventilation and many also are built with wooden air ducts that attract mold and asbestos.
Balfour Beatty says since 2006 they've either built or renovated more than half of the homes at Fort Gordon. By 2012 they hope all homes will be either new, or newly renovated
Kourtney's husband is facing charges of disobeying Army command, stemming from an encounter with Balfour Beatty housing managers. Shelton was offered an Article 15 punishment, but turned it down and requested a courts martial. They're still waiting for his command to schedule the hearing.
Kourtney and her family are also taking legal action against Balfour Beatty.