Accused Miami Beach arsonist had serious issues with mold

Accused Miami Beach arsonist had serious issues with mold

Walter Stopler was being evicted when he set out to burn building

By Glenna Milberg – Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The first look inside the condo unit where Walter Stopler’s unit in the condominium he is accused of trying to burn down reveals what neighbors say may have been his motivation: years’ worth of toxic black mold.

“He was very frustrated, very frustrated about the mold in his apartment and how this has been going on for at least since 2016, I think,” said Priscilla Suarez, a former condo board member.

Stopler, 72, is in jail with no bond, accused of a plan to stockpile gasoline, incinerate the condominium.

He had seen doctors because of physical symptoms he related to the mold in his apartment.  Research shows inhaled mold could be connected to brain diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease.

Miami Beach police officers report Stopler talked about wanting to “kill all the Jews” in the Pavilion condominium, and found Nazi-themed materials in his condo, and in a storage closet he rented, dozens of jugs with gasoline, sulfur powder and potassium nitrate.

Prosecutors are exploring whether the crime was motivated by hate, but neighbors say Stopler was more angry at the chronic mold and maintenance issues, and a condo board that keeps raising fees with little accountability.

Suarez, the former board member, said mold was a chronic issue in many residents’ units, including her own.

“Stopler had said something about not paying his maintenance or special assessment until they fix the mold,” said Suarez.

The board had moved to foreclose on Stopler’s unit and evict him.

Military families sue over black mold in their homes

Military families sue over black mold in their homes

All eleven families are suing Hunt Southern Group and Hunt MH Property Management, the companies that own and manage the base housing there, over the outbreak of the mold in their homes and the inadequate treatment the companies allegedly provided, which included a simple attempt at removal using soap and water. Specifically, the companies have been accused of fraud, conspirinig to conceal dangerous conditions, breach of contract and gross negligence.

According to the lawsuit, residents’ complaints about the mold started in 2015, and in 2017 environmental testing of the homes led to the discovery of high levels of aspergillus and some stachybotrys. Aspergillus is a fairly common form of mold that does not harm most healthy people in moderation, but a high concentration of the mold can cause long infections, and can spread to other organs. Stachbotrys is better known for its colloqiual name of “black mold” and can cause serious health issues.

According to the Sun Herald, the lawsuits allege that the mold grew in the houses because of poor insulation in the air conditioning system, which led to duct sweats and water damage, a breeding ground for mold. And after the mold began to really spread, the two companies allegedly failed to properly address the issue despite “repeated requests” for help.

Cindy Gersch, vice president of corporate communications for Hunt companies, told the newspaper that the companies have addressed the issues by modifing heating and air conditioning systems to prevent condensation in high humidity. Gersch also claims the companies have hired additional maintainance staff to address the health hazards.

In their lawsuits, the families are seeking compensation for medical bills, moving expenses, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

The families all live or lived in homes in West Falcon, Thrower Park and Bay Ridge subdivisions, which are on Air Force property in Biloxi. They were among more than 1,000 homes built as part of a $287 million housing construction project after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The project culminated in March 2010 under the Hunt Building Construction company.

The lawsuits are pending in the U.S. District Court in Gulfport.

Prison guards say toxic mold is making them sick. Warden says all is OK

Mold is visible in this photo taken at the federal prison in Mendota, California.

Prison guards say toxic mold is making them sick. Warden says all is OK

June 06, 2018 11:49 AM

Updated June 06, 2018 05:11 PM

Texas Health Building Invaded By Mold, Raising Health Concerns

Texas Health Building Invaded By Mold, Raising Health Concerns

Jul 19, 2018 

Only one word comes to mind looking at photos that employees at the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin took of gray, green and brown-hued mold dotting their office furniture: Ew.

As of July 10, as many as 127 state workers have been affected by mold in the building, with some finding mold infiltrating their desks, chairs and keyboard hand rests in the Austin State Hospital 636 building. Mold also spotted the carpet. One state worker even found mold on shoes left in the office. As a result, employees whose job it is to analyze data on tuberculosis, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases in Texas have lately found themselves also researching what kind of health risks their own offices might pose.

The state agency has tried to ward off the mold — with little success. A department staff memo, emails obtained by The Texas Tribune and inquiries to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and Department of State Health Services reveal $15,721.19 spent on dehumidifiers and a mold assessment and some workers placed on emergency leave or relocated to vacant cubicles or a nearby building. The agency is even planning for Ketki Patel, a department epidemiologist who specializes in occupational health, to lead Q&A forums about mold in the workplace.

“It is very distressing for me (and much more so for you) that there are so many significant building issues in ASH 636, particularly the high humidity and mold,” wrote Janna Zumbrun, associate commissioner for Laboratory and Infectious Disease Services for the Department of State Health Services, in a June 27 email to staff members.

The state has spent nearly $16,000 fighting the mold so far.

The mold, which officials at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of State Health Services confirmed to the Tribune, is another setback in Texas state agencies’ losing battle with building maintenance issues, which have forced them to spend money from their budgets to contract out for help. Another example emerged last year when the Texas Health and Human Services Commission said its Austin building was overrun by “several hundred rats.” Typically, the Texas Facilities Commission handles maintenance issues, but Texas Health and Human Services Commission officials say the facilities agency isn’t involved with fighting the mold problem.

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which oversees the Department of State Health Services, hired Baer Engineering and Environmental Consulting to conduct a mold assessment in late June. That cost $4,826.24, according to Kelli Weldon, a spokesperson for the agency.

The Baer Engineering mold assessment report, obtained by the Tribune, found “visible suspect mold was observed on desks, cabinets, chairs, carpet, walls, and around skylights.” The report found that throughout the dozen areas inside the building where samples were taken there was mold visibly seen or detected. Baer Engineering noted that the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system was a factor, since “cycling at nights and weekends is causing temperature and humidity issues that promote mold growth.”

The company recommended the agency either professionally clean or toss all furniture contaminated by mold; remove and replace damaged drywall walls in three areas of the building; keep the humidity at or below 65 percent or the temperature at 82 degrees Fahrenheit; and have the building ventilation evaluated by a specialist.

The Department of State Health Services has so far spent $10,894.95 alone on dehumidifiers to fight the mold. As of July 2, the agency is renting six large dehumidifiers — $90 each for a total of $540 per day — so far racking up $9,720. In addition, the agency purchased five small dehumidifiers for $1,174.95.

Lara Anton, a spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said in an emailed statement that the agency is “concerned about the health and safety of our employees” and asked for the mold assessment.

“We recently received the results of the assessment and we have begun implementing the recommendations to improve the indoor air quality in the building, including removal of furniture with mold on it and instructing the cleaning staff to thoroughly wipe down all surfaces on a regular basis,” Anton said.

She said the agency is working to move people out of the affected areas to other open spaces and other short-term space “while continuing the preexisting search for long-term office space to house those employees.”

Seth Hutchinson, vice president of the Texas State Employees Union, said broken elevators, leaks, mice, cockroaches and electrical outages in state buildings are common problems he hears about from members. He said state workers can talk to their supervisors about these problems but nothing happens without proper funding.

“All of these issues are rampant throughout the state and state office buildings because the Legislature is not putting the money toward these maintenance problems,” Hutchinson said.

One staff member, who requested anonymity for fear of being fired, told the Tribune that department employees have expressed exasperation with how the agency has expected business to proceed as usual during the mold problem. Staffers who found mold on their chairs have been using whichever mold-free ones they can find around the office.

State workers have dreaded showing up to work, the staff member said. Employees try to wipe down any mold that’s visible but, according to the worker, “in terms of mold in the air, who knows.”

“To me, the scariest part is that you actually have people who have mold allergies,” the worker said. “There’s one person I know who has mold allergies and he just couldn’t breathe.”

Employees have also complained about how it took the agency three weeks from a recent mold sighting last month to get a contractor to come in. They’re also frustrated that there’s been no permanent fix to what they described as the office’s longtime humidity problem.

“They haven’t really done much to try and actually fix the actual problem or find the actual problem,” the employee said.

Felipe Rocha, director of the TB/HIV/STD Section, under the Texas Department of State Health Services, told staff in an email on June 6 that the department would relocate people into cubicles divvied up around the office and in another building about five minutes away. He noted it would be “conducive” for staff who have a laptop and can use Wi-Fi.

“I would consider you working remotely elsewhere but there needs to be a compelling reason for it,” Rocha said.

Other employees who need to stay home but haven’t been approved to work there would need to request emergency leave, he said.

Currently, three employees are on emergency leave. Anton said in an email that the agency doesn’t know how many employees are unable to work from home, saying only a limited number of employees have agency-issued laptops.

Rocha wrote in a June 7 email to employees that fans and a large dehumidifier had been brought into the office. Plus, housekeeping staff was applying an enzyme solution to the carpet “to keep any additional mold from growing.”

“What type of testing will be done to confirm that mold is no longer growing in my workspace?,” one employee replied to Rocha. “It is very important to me because I have a severe mold allergy and will need to confirm no more mold.”

Rocha responded to the employee that Patel, the epidemiologist who specializes in occupational health, was providing resources and that Rocha would be discussing testing with her and Zumbrun, the associate commissioner. The next day he emailed that the commission ordered two dehumidifiers.

The Department of State Health Services’ web page on indoor air quality warns about the risk of mold, saying its presence in a home “is an unsanitary condition that may present potential health risks to occupants.” Some health side effects, according to the site, include allergic reactions, respiratory problems, nasal congestion, eye irritation, coughing, skin rashes, headaches and fatigue.

The site says health issues from mold “depend on the amounts and types of mold present, the length and frequency of exposure, and the sensitivity and health condition of exposed individuals.” Those most at risk of severe symptoms include people with allergies or asthma, people with weakened immune systems, young children and the elderly.

“I know that this situation has been incredibly disruptive and that the mold has also affected different staff in different ways,” Rocha said in a June 21 email. “Some staff may have had their allergies exacerbated and others have seemingly not been affected at all.”

According to a Rocha email on June 22, a mold assessment consultant from Baer Engineering set up data loggers to track temperature and humidity readings. A follow-up email from Rocha after a staff meeting about the mold problem noted that the consultant would return at the beginning of the week to collect mold samples from the carpet and chairs.

Rocha wrote at the end of the email, “P.S. Don’t forget to turn off the dehumidifiers.”

In recent weeks, the agency has opted to keep them on at all times on weekdays and weekends.

But that’s becoming another point of contention in the mold saga. On July 11, the power went out in the TB/HIV/STD Section.

“We have noticed that sometimes power is going off in certain cubicles and pods so we may end up having to amend our plan to continuously run the dehumidifier,” Rocha wrote in a July 11 email to workers.

In addition, with the dehumidifiers running at all hours, employees are being put on rotation to empty them — even on weekends.

“Shelley and Jonathon will coordinate putting together a schedule of staff to assist with this duty,” Rocha wrote. “I am sure they will take volunteers.”

More troubling for employees is that the whole ordeal feels like deja vu. In May 2017, staffers were told Baer Engineering had not found a mold issue in Suite 1102 of the Austin State Hospital 636 building.

According to Baer Engineering’s report at the time, there was a “musty and stuffy feel” but “no indication of a mold concern at the time of this assessment.” However, Baer Engineering said the office’s high humidity meant there was “a higher than normal chance of future mold growth.”

On June 2, 2017, one employee wrote they weren’t convinced.

“There is black mold on the middle refrigerator next to Justin’s office, and the mini-fridge in the pump room has been largely colonized on the magnetic seal (which doesn’t seal well),” the employee said in an email obtained by the Tribune. “There may not be mold circulating in the air, but there is definitely mold in the building.”

Mold remediation underway at Dothan City Schools Central Office

Mold remediation underway at Dothan City Schools Central Office

Parts of the Dothan City School's Central Office have been closed after mold was found. (Source: WSFA 12 News) Parts of the Dothan City School’s Central Office have been closed after mold was found. (Source: WSFA 12 News)
DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) – Parts of Dothan City Schools’ Central Office are closed as the system treats mold.

School Board Chairman Mike Schmitz confirmed the system discovered the mold two weeks ago after an inspection.

“Dr. Edwards is doing an inspection of all the schools and central office,” said Schmitz.

“There wasn’t a lot of visible mold, but there were odors related to off gassing,” said Chris Rose of Wiregrass Environmental. “At that point, that’s what activated the evaluation.”

The building off Dusy Street is a former school built in 1921. According to the inspector, the mold may have been caused from water that accumulates in the parking lot from rain, impacting the building’s foundation.

“Working it’s way through the foundation into the building, that’s where all the water problems were at,” said Rose. “The parking lot didn’t probably used to be there and what it’s doing is allowing the water to hold under the building.”

Rose said the mold was found in the foundation’s crawl space which doesn’t cover the entire building, but he couldn’t confirm how much of the building is impacted.

The mold treated isn’t what’s advertised as the concerning and deadly black mold you hear about. But with any mold, there is always risk for health concerns.

“The molds that were of the most significant concern to us, they weren’t in the air in the occupied space. We felt they had a sufficient opportunity to get there so we made a responsible decision for that.”

As a precaution, the system made short-term accommodations, like moving some employees working at the building during the summer, and long-term accommodations as they address the mold.

“We called Mayor Saliba and asked if we could hold our meetings in his commission chamber and he agreed to that. We’re going to do that until we get the final report and feel comfortable,” said Schmitz.

Schmitz said at this point, no employees have reported falling ill because of the mold.

He said the system is also looking at some other buildings to move into in the future but have not made a final decision about that.

The inspector said the mold issue can happen in any building where there is the presence of water and they are moving forward to get it remediated.

The building will be inspected monthly for the next six months.

Elevated levels of mold, mildew found in air at east Fort Worth police station


Elevated levels of mold, mildew found in air at east Fort Worth police station

June 25, 2018 05:16 PM

Landlord says 60 people out of their homes due to his dispute with Lancaster City

Landlord says 60 people out of their homes due to his dispute with Lancaster City

People are out of their homes in Lancaster, and city officials said the mayor’s office is getting death threats. According to officials, it’s all related to the same housing issue that is believed to be the motive for an arson at City Hall.

The tenants all lived in properties owned by Dwain London Sr. He’s the father of one of the men charged with setting fire to the doors of City Hall just hours after a heated City Council meeting about those homes.

City officials have been looking into more than a dozen properties owned by London ever since a man was found dead after a fire in one of them. City inspectors issued 175 violations.

“People were living in one room that they were being charged $500 to live in,” said Matt Johnson, the mayor’s chief of staff. “Sometimes no access to bathrooms. We were finding jars of urine and hotplates that were huge fire hazards.”

Marie Chambers lived in one of the rooms for more than a year with her three children.

“We didn’t have smoke detectors,” Chambers said. “I was living with black mold in my room.”

London said he wasn’t aware of the problem. He said he was just trying to help families who otherwise couldn’t afford a home of their own.

“They’re living on an average of $700 a month income,” London said. “Where are they going to live?”

London also said he doesn’t know anything about the city staff getting death threats.

City officials said they’re working quickly to find safe and affordable homes for the people who have been displaced. Officials said there are even some city programs that will help pay for part of their rent.

Elevated levels of mold, mildew found in air at east Fort Worth police station


Elevated levels of mold, mildew found in air at east Fort Worth police station

June 25, 2018 05:16 PM

Fort Worth police officials had “voluntarily relocated” personnel from the building on June 11 over what a police official described as “environmental concerns.” A source told the Star-Telegram that employees had arrived to work on June 10 to find a black substance in parts of the building, including under at least one air vent.
On Monday, police spokesman Bradley Perez said two police department units are occupying the building.
“However, the decision was made to keep personnel out of the areas still under construction to expedite the renovation,” Perez said in an email.
In a memo sent to Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa on June 12, Property Management Director Steve Cooke described the black substance that concerned police staff as “dust that resulted from cleaning the HVAC duct work.”
He said a microscopy test performed on a sample of the substance showed the “presence of hair, dust particles, lint and similar items commonly associated with indoor HVAC return air.”
“Safety of all of our employees is of the utmost importance,” Cooke wrote to Chapa in the memo. “No data or visual observations have suggested a need to vacate the building. If molds — even black mold — are identified in homes or offices, industry standards do not call for evacuation — the mold is simply abated.”
The additional tests were done that same week to look for the presence of molds and other biological elements. The city received the results on Friday, Covey said.
Covey said no visible black mold has been found in the building.
The building at 3900 Barnett St., constructed in 1947, had been traded to the city by television station KXAS as part of an incentive agreement on a new complex the station built in the CentrePort Business Park near the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.
Officers and police civilians have been housed there while renovations have been underway, including adding a new elevator and renovating the HVAC system.
Covey has said that since 2014, the city’s environmental quality department has repeatedly checked the building for possible asbestos fibers in the air, including after the black substance was found.
All those tests have come back negative, she has said.


Black mold discovered at Anthony Correctional Center


Black mold has been discovered at a correctional center in Greenbrier County, according to the State Division of Corrections.

The mold was found at the Anthony Correctional Center in its main building.

State Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen has decided to transfer 200 young-adult offenders to other correctional facilities while an inspection into the issue continues. According to the D.O.C., the women inmates will be moved to the Lakin Correctional Center in Mason County.

The men will be placed in the Parkersburg and Denmar correctional facilities in Pocahontas County.

Black mold found in correctional center

Black mold found in correctional center

The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON – The Anthony Correctional Center, a prison created as a place for youthful offenders in West Virginia to receive education and job skills training, has relocated its inmates and employees after black mold was found at the facility.

The transfers were initiated by West Virginia Corrections Commissioner Betsy Jividen after she received initial findings from an ongoing inspection of the facilities, according to Lawrence Messina, director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

The final inspection report will help authorities determine the best course for the future of the center.

The Anthony Correction Center is a minimum-security facility based in Greenbrier County. It houses about 200 young-adult offenders, both men and women, from West Virginia. The program takes anywhere from six months to two years to complete and gives educational courses to offenders, while also teaching them job skills applicable to the real world.

It was first built in 1965 as a federal Civilian Jobs Corps Center before the West Virginia corrections took over the property in 1970.

Initial findings identified a black mold in just one of the campus’ half-dozen buildings, which houses the administrative offices, facility kitchen gym and some housing units. With that information and the inspection continuing, Jividen concluded the transfers were needed, Messina said.

No staff or inmates have exhibited any symptoms of exposure to the mold, but all parties will be monitored in case symptoms appear in the future.

The women have been moved to the Lakin Correctional Center, while the men will be divided between the Parkersburg and Denmar facilities. The inmates will continue to receive the statutory education and training needed to complete the program.

About 100 staff members, including about a dozen Department of Education teachers, will also be moved to different facilities. Although, they will be moved to nearby facilities with the goal to avoid unnecessarily long commutes.

The Correctional division is sharing the inspection findings with the state Bureau for Public Health, which has also visited the facility. The Greenbrier County Health Department has also been notified, according to Messina.