I-TEAM: Did poor housing at Fort Gordon make a resident sick?

Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock

FORT GORDON, GA (WRDW/WAGT) – Our I-Team continues to investigate military housing at Fort Gordon. We’ve uncovered issues that affect the health of some of our service members and their families.

The problem is so big the Army has created a national registry. Its full name is the Housing Environmental Health Response Registry, and it’s only been around since April.

Already, we’ve learned that 90 Fort Gordon families are on it.

It’s no secret that Fort Gordon is home to countless secrets. Secrets that protect our national security, but some believe their homes on post housed other secrets.

"Five to six months after we moved in, I started getting sick,” Carol, a woman we spoke with who wanted to remain anonymous out of caution for her husband’s job, said.

"I was constantly having to go to the doctor. They would give me antibiotics that weren't working. They were trying me on different inhalers that were not working."

“When you moved in, did you know anything was wrong?” we asked.

“No,” Carol said.

But then she started noticing things were wrong.

"There was this, like, orange stuff, running down the walls,” Carol said.

Carol says maintenance crews weren't exactly getting rid of the problem.

"They came in. They painted over it. And you could see the drips where they painted over it,” Carol said. “It was just nasty."

"And about this time, we started noticing where the registers were, that there was this black stuff. And they came out and they said, ‘Oh no. That's just dust. Just dust it.’"

She says crews painted over the black stuff, too, but it would bleed through, so she started taking pictures.

Meanwhile, doctors’ visits began to add up. She released her records to us so we could see the pattern.

That first year in Gordon Terrace wasn't a good one for her. Six months after she moved in she had acute sinusitis. Two months later she had pneumonia. The next month she had chronic allergies. Two months after that she had community-acquired pneumonia. Another month passes, and once again she had community-acquired pneumonia.

Things take a turn for the worse on her 9th visit. Her doctor now notices wheezing in her lungs and diagnoses her with COPD. Then, more visits, with more wheezing and more pneumonia.

It's important to note she's also a long-time smoker. During this time, her records indicate she cut down, and tried to stop by even going on the patch.

So could this all be linked to tobacco use? Yes. And it appears that's the doctor's take in this case.

But these records could also point to symptoms of prolonged exposure to mold. Could something in her home be making her sick?

"I never thought that's what it was until I got the letter,” Carol said.

This letter. It identifies her as "submitting a work order addressing health or safety concerns."

"You're living on base. You think you're safe,” Carol said. “Why would I even think something like that?”

Then, she says she remembered the orange drips and the black stuff even though she says crews painted over it.

In May of this year, she told her doctor she thought had been exposed to mold and was about to move. That's the last visit the office has on file.

"Since I have moved out of there, I haven't been sick anymore,” Carol said.

Just a month or two before she moved out, Micheala Hall was moving her family off post, too. She left after having to take her son not once but twice to the ER for breathing problems.

"It's ridiculous,” Hall said. “I can't afford to have my kids' health be jeopardized because of a house the military provides."

Since our investigation started, the Army admits to 73 life-health-safety mold/moisture complaints on post. A lot of them were in older homes like the ones Balfour Beatty manages in Olive Terrace where the Hall family lived.

"It was horrible,” Carol said. “Absolutely horrible."

But she says she's hopeful her health will continue to improve. And that being on the housing environmental health response registry will keep it that way because at least she knows for sure she's on their radar.

And that what she feels is substandard housing won't be one of Fort Gordon's secrets.

We reached out to Balfour Beatty and the company said:

“Our primary focus is the safety and well-being of our residents. We do not take mold issues lightly and promptly investigate complaints about mold when they are received. Mold is a regular occurrence in homes across the United States, particularly in locations that experience significant rainfall, high temperatures and humidity. It is not restricted to military housing. Where necessary, we engage licensed contractors to conduct mold assessments and recommend the appropriate course of action, which we follow. To date, we not aware of any homes that did not comply with applicable health or safety regulations.”

The Army says the health registry hot-line is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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