Some Grove tenants suspect mold is cause of health problems

Tenants at The Grove apartment complex in Orono have complained about several problems since the community opened in fall of 2012. Some residents suspect persistent mold is to blame for their health problems.
Gabor Degre | BDN
Tenants at The Grove apartment complex in Orono have complained about several problems since the community opened in fall of 2012. Some residents suspect persistent mold is to blame for their health problems. Buy Photo
By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 31, 2013, at 6:06 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — A tenant of The Grove apartment complex who filed a complaint about housing conditions with town officials earlier this month believes that mold could be the cause of some health symptoms he has experienced.

The parents of two other tenants have similar suspicions.

“I’ve never been so sick in my life,” 21-year-old William Carney said Wednesday, citing bronchial problems, sneezing, coughing and headaches among his symptoms since moving into a ground floor unit at The Grove, an apartment complex designed for college students that opened in September.

Jim Hogan of Pelham, N.H., said that his daughter Victoria Hogan, who typically uses an inhaler for a few weeks during pollen season each spring, now is using her inhaler twice a day.

“She has had a couple of times where she has considered taking the trip to [the hospital] — but ultimately it has subsided with the meds she has on hand,” Hogan wrote Tuesday in an email to Orono town officials. “She has a persistent cough — with all of these symptoms happening upon her return to The Grove from Christmas break.”

Hogan said Wednesday that while it is not clear if his daughter’s recent respiratory problems are caused by mold in her apartment, he suspects there could be a connection.

“Mold is elusive. Nobody really knows,” he said.

Sharah Pomerleau of Turner is worried about mold because her daughter Andrea Pomerleau has asthma. In addition, her daughter’s roommate is allergic to mold.

“My concern is that the mold showed up immediately after they moved in. It’s still an ongoing issue,” she said Wednesday. “My concern is whether there will be any long-term health effects. It’s not healthy.”

Carney, Hogan and Pomerleau are the three people whose complaints about mold and other problems at The Grove are being investigated by Orono town officials.

These complaints are the second wave officials have received since The Grove opened.

According to documents that town officials released on Tuesday, the presence of mold was confirmed in four apartments by air quality tests performed by TP Environmental Consulting of Brewer in September. The tests were commissioned by The Grove’s parent company, Campus Crest Communities Inc., which is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.

Spokesmen for Campus Crest did not comment on the matter on Wednesday.

Varying levels of Aspergillus, a common type of mold, were found to be elevated in two of the four apartments, according to test results dated Sept. 28.

In a letter to the general manager of The Grove dated Oct. 3, Orono Health Officer Robert St. Louis, who also is the town’s fire chief, stated that follow-up tests by TP Environmental Consulting “indicate a strong potential for adverse health [e]ffects in your tenants.”

While that incident was remediated to the town’s satisfaction by Campus Crest, Orono officials have received new complaints about mold in the apartments, St. Louis and Town Manager Sophie Wilson said Tuesday.

St. Louis said the town has received three mold complaints since last week, when the complex experienced a series of power outages.

Wilson and St. Louis were careful to point out that the presence of mold this winter has yet to be confirmed. They said testing has yet to be done in response to the new complaints but will be requested.

Orono officials are scheduled to meet with representatives of Campus Crest on Thursday afternoon, Wilson said. The meeting will not be open to the public.

For some people, mold is more than an aesthetic problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that mold can affect the health of people who are sensitive to it:

“For these people, exposure to molds can cause symptoms such as nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, wheezing, or skin irritation. Some people, such as those with serious allergies to molds, may have more severe reactions. … Severe reactions may include fever and shortness of breath. Some people with chronic lung illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mold infections in their lungs.”

“In 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found there was sufficient evidence to link indoor exposure to mold with upper respiratory tract symptoms, cough, and wheeze in otherwise healthy people; with asthma symptoms in people with asthma; and with hypersensitivity pneumonitis in individuals susceptible to that immune-mediated condition,” the CDC said on its website.

Although most of The Grove’s renters are University of Maine students, the Cutler Health Center on campus has not seen an increase in mold-related illnesses since The Grove opened, a spokeswoman for Eastern Maine Medical Center said Wednesday. Cutler Health Center is run by EMMC.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, Carney said he believes the mold is the result of a moisture problem in his building. When he moved in, there was standing water in his closet. Then came the mold.

“They basically just bleached the mold but is now moving/growing to different locations,” Carney wrote Monday in an email to St. Louis.

Carney, who is 21, is studying sports management through an online program offered by Post University of Waterbury, Conn. He said Wednesday that mold showed up in his apartment shortly after he moved in.

The complex’s management came to clean up and two months passed without any problem, but then the mold returned.

“It’s now a major mold problem — there’s black, purple, green fuzzy mold starting to grow on top of each other,” he said.

Carney said he is considering taking legal action if the problem is not addressed.

“It’s awful. It seems like there’s always a problem going on,” he said, citing power outages that resulted in lost food and the inability to take tests online. He also said the heat in his apartment is sporadic.

In response to a series of power outages that lasted most of last week, The Grove offered to give renters a $50 credit toward their February rent.

“That just doesn’t cut it,” Carney said.

Hogan, whose daughter is a UMaine sophomore business major, said that the apartment his daughter Victoria rents is among the ones that tested positive for the presence of mold last fall. He said that the moisture problem became evident to him while he was helping his daughter move in. He said that the rug was wet and the apartment had an odor he described as “pungent.”

“In speaking with my daughter, [she and her roommates] continue to have mold showing up on the window sills in a number of the rooms of the apartment as well as in the toilets. They have gone so far as to use bleach tablets in the toilet tank, but this seems to have no effect. They will clean it out one day and it is back the next,” he wrote in his email to St. Louis.

Aside from the mold, however, Hogan said his daughter enjoys living at The Grove.

“It’s a great concept,” he said. Renters each have their own bedroom, bathroom and closet, which provides them more privacy and quiet space for studying than they would have in a dorm setting,” he said, adding that tenants also can pick their roommates. At the same time, the complex has a “community feel,” he said.

“If everything was fixed, that would be perfect,” Hogan said.

Pomerleau agrees.

“The sad part about it is that the girls were so excited about moving in,” she said. She said that her daughter and her daughter’s roommates already have decided not to renew when their leases expire at the end of August.

“Student have enough stress in their lives — they don’t need to be dealing with this,” she said.

http://bangordailynews.com/2013/01/31/news/bangor/some-grove-tenants-suspect-mold-is-cause-of-health-problems/ printed on July 26, 2014