Update: Pregnant mother battles landlord over mold

Cleaning crews bag anything they think was contaminated by mold.

Update: March 3

The Levesque family says cleaning crews found five types of mold in their home - including black mold.

A worker "said it's pretty bad," said Kathleen Levesque, who's seven months pregnant. "He said it's not a situation to be taken lightly."

Last week workers sealed off the home and gutted the basemenet - ripping out drywall, insullation and throwing out furniture. The entire time they wore white contamination suits and breathing masks.

"I've been living here for six months," said Levesque. "And they won't even go in for an hour without that."

Two weeks ago, Levesque and her 5-year-old son, Owen, drove 10 hours to her mother's house in Wisconsin to get away from mold she says has made them all sick. She said Owen no longer needs to use his breathing machine and his health has improved greatly - a "night and day" difference - she said, since they left the house.

Owen's "been doing awesome," she said. "He's actually been able to sleep through the night without waking up and coughing so hard that he's throwing up. He's able to run and play like a normal kid."

The family says the clean up could cost the landlord - Eldon attorney Robert Seek - up to $20,000.

'I worry about my kids'

"It's been scary," said Kathleen's husband, David. "I worry about my kids. I worry about my pregnant wife and how it's going to affect them."

The city says they're happy with the landlord's resposne and aren't pressing him to do more at this time. But while the situation looks dire at the Levesque's home, the health department says this isn't a normal response to mold.

"There's not sufficient evidence at this point in time of any association between any type of mold and health effects," said Barbara Sassi with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. "Other than allergies and some upper respiratory issues."

Those respiratory issues usually affect the young, the old and those with weakened immune systems, according to Sassi. And black mold? "It's really no more dangerous than any other type of mold," she said.

Perhaps. Health officials disagree over how toxic and dangerous mold can be, in particular black mold.

But the Levesque's aren't taking any chances. Cleaning crews have sealed off the house with yellow tape and are getting rid of anything that might have been contaminated. The family hopes to one day be reimbursed for the cost of their damaged furniture - but they're not holding out hope.

"They said look at it like your house was on fire," said Levesque who came back to see what could be saved. "Anything that was sitting down there [near the mold] is lost, just like it was burned.

Update: Feb. 10

Kathleen Levesque, who's six months pregnant, pulled her son out of school and drove 10 hours to her mother's house in Wisconsin - to get away from mold.

Her husband, David, stayed behind.

"I'm the only one working," he said. "We can't afford for me not to work."

Black mold has peppered the Levesque's basement walls, which has been made worse by heavy rains and a large crack in their foundation. The city of Eldon has now gotten involved, along with their landlord, Robert Seek - who the Levesque's say has done little to help, and has never contacted them.

'We worked the entire house'

After our story, the landlord hired Jim Echols, a licensed mold inspector with a dozen years of experience, along with ServiceMaster cleaning company to take samples and clean up the mold.

"We worked the entire house," Echols told the city's building inspector, who came to check up on things Tuesday. "We took air samples upstairs, air samples downstairs."

Those samples will then go to an independent lab in Oklahoma City to be tested and results should be back in two weeks. ServiceMaster will then come back and clean out all the mold, and then retest it again.

"Black mold has a mycotoxin that can be very toxic," Echols said. "It doesn't always produce all the toxins under all conditions. It's really on an individual basis."

So those with compromised immune systems - like 5-year-old Owen who uses a breathing machine - would be more likely to get sick.

On Friday, ServiceMaster brought in an air filtration system which cleans the bad air and filters it out through a hole in the back of the house.

"It's just a lot easier to breathe," David said. "I feel more comfortable."

'A very serious problem'

Echols says in most cases, people won't be affected if they come in contact with mold. But one EPA OSHA accredited mold expert says it can, in fact, be very harmful and cites examples where people have died.

"This is a very serious problem," Linda May said via satellite from Washington D.C. "No one should enter a building once they know that black mold exists. It's considered a hazardous material site and you need to have someone going in with self-contained breathing apparatus and full protective gear."

While most health officials agree that mold should be removed, there's really no way of saying how much is safe.

For instance, the Missouri Health and Senior Services Department's Web site says there are "no Missouri of federal laws that set limits or standards as to what types of levels of healthy or unhealthy," or even what levels of it are allowed.

David says he doesn't know what type of mold is in his basement, or how bad it is, and that's what scares him the most. While he waits for test results to come back he says he doesn't think it's safe, or wise, for his wife and kids to come back just yet. But he's hoping they can return soon.

"I just want my family to be OK," he said. "And my kids not to be sick."

Original Story

An Eldon mother says she's fed up with her landlord, and the mold growing in her house - and now the city's getting involved.

Kathleen Levesque has two young kids with another on the way. What should be a happy time for her and her family, she says, has been anything but.

"Immediately it just hit you like a ton of bricks," she said, describing the first time she smelled mold after moving in. "The mold down there is just intense."

While the smell was there when they moved into their home on Rollotrend Lane six months ago, Levesque and her husband, David, say the mold was hidden under carpets and inside walls.

"This drywall is breaking apart," David Levesque said while giving a tour of the basement's bathroom. "This is major mold going on right here."

Black mold peppers the basement's white walls - the result of heavy rains, which made it grow rapidly. A big part of the problem is a giant crack in the foundation that lets water right in.

'Throw some bleach on it'

Levesque says her landlord has largely ignored her pleas, and has done little to help.

"He just said 'throw some bleach on it and it'll be fine,'" she said. "He never came out, never looked at it and never saw what we were talking about."

The city's building inspector came on Jan. 23 and cited the house as "unsafe" and "dangerous to human life" because of mold and insulation problems. He gave the landlord until Jan. 29 to have all mold removed by a licensed professional.

Workers did show up, but weren't licensed to remove mold, and ended up disturbing it.

Monday night the whole family ended up in the hospital, they say tests confirmed toxic mold was to blame. Medical reports indicate their 5-year-old son, Owen, got a "cough after mold exposure," and that the family "may want to consider alternative living space."

The mold has made things especially difficult for Owen, who already had breathing problems, and was using a nebulizer breathing machine when we visited.

"He's on three different kinds of medications just to live here," Levesque said.

While we were filming the workers came back and said they didn't know about the mold. "It's not bad at all down there," one worker said. But after they saw our cameras they left and the landlord, Bob Seek, called the police to have us removed.

'I think we have this problem all around town'

Legally the family can break their lease, pack up and go. But they say they don't have the money or the means to do so right now.

"I don't think this is an isolated case," said Eldon Mayor Ronald Bly. "I think we have this type of problem all around town."

Bly said he's cracking down on landlords.

"We've hired a new code enforcement officer where we're going to clean up properties, rental properties," he said. "Make sure all properties are inhabitable and safe."

We took the mayor to see the house firsthand. After meeting with the family, he said the city will do all they can to help.

"A landlord, their house isn't in this type of condition," said Bly. "So how can they expect someone else to have to live under these conditions?"

Landlord's Response

The landlord, Robert Seek, faxed us a statement last month saying he will send repairmen and a mold specialist to treat the problem. The city has given him 30 more days to fix up the property or the house could be deemed uninhabitable.

Here is the statement that was faxed to us:

"Due to the apparent possibility of litigation I deem it to be in the best interests of the trust to limit any response concerning 709 Rollotrend. Therefore, no on camera or phone interview is going to be made. The following factual statement is made:

"The trust has immediately responded to any notification of any repairs needed or other conditions. A licensed and certified mold specialist treated the house a few months ago after numerous homes in Eldon suffered from wet conditions due to an unusually large rainfall after a period of much rain. He was of the opinion that mold would no longer be a problem.

"The first notification that mold was again present was by the city inspector on Friday, January 23. Notification was not made by the tenants. A contractor was hired to make any necessary or recommended repairs and began work the work day thereafter. Such repairs will be completed when he is allowed to work without interference. The mold specialist will then treat it again.

"It is important to note that the tenant is required under the lease to immediately notify the trust of any conditions that need repaired. Without such notification it is difficult to repair a condition that is not evident from the outside."