'Toxic mold' forces military families out of Keesler housing, lawsuit says

In 2017, environmental testing found “black mold,” which can cause respiratory problems, skin rashes and eye irritation

Anita Lee
The Sun Herald

Eleven military families are suing the companies that own and manage Keesler Air Force Base housing over “toxic mold” that continued to grow in their homes after the companies responded to complaints with inadequate remedies, including cleanup with soap and water, the lawsuits say.

Five of the families reported still living in the homes in West Falcon, Thrower Park and Bayridge subdivisions in Biloxi when the Rushing & Guice law firm filed the lawsuits in December 2017. Six other families say the mold drove them from their homes in West Falcon and Bayridge.

The three subdivisions were part of the largest housing construction project in Air Force history, with $287 million spent on more than 1,000 homes built after Hurricane Katrina. An article in the Sun Herald said keys were handed over in March 2010 to the last of the homes built by El Paso-based Hunt Building Construction.

Complaints about mold started as early as 2015, the lawsuits indicate.

The lawsuits pending in U.S. District Court in Gulfport say Hunt Southern Group LLC, which owns the houses, and property manager Hunt MH Property Management LLC failed to fix underlying moisture problems with the houses, despite “repeated requests” for relief.

Mold cleaned up with soap and water, and in some cases Tilex, returned and spread, the lawsuits say.

The families accuse the Hunt companies of gross negligence, fraud, breach of contract, conspiring to conceal dangerous conditions and other wrongs. They are asking to be compensated for losses that include medical bills and, in some cases, moving expenses. They also seek punitive damages and attorneys’ fees.

Hunt representatives do not comment on pending lawsuits, said Cindy Gersch, vice president of corporate communications for Hunt Companies. Gersch did send responses to written questions from the Sun Herald.

“Hunt Military Communities created a plan of action to address the residents’ moisture and mold concerns immediately after the issue was brought to our attention,” she wrote. She said Keesler leadership approved the plan, which includes inspection of all homes with reported mold and moisture issues.

She said heating and air conditioning systems have been modified to prevent condensation on ducts during humid months. Hunt also has taken other measures, such as hiring additional maintenance and other staff. Hunt’s complete answers to questions the Sun Herald posed can be found here.

The lawsuits describe a less proactive approach to mold cleanup.

In 2017, environmental testing found elevated levels of aspergillus, plus in two cases stachybotrys, in the military housing occupied by families filing the lawsuits.

While mold is commonly found in the environment, aspergillus can cause lung infections, with potential to spread to other organs, in people with weakened immune systems. Stachybotrys, or “black mold,” can cause respiratory problems, skin rashes, eye irritation and other issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The lawsuits say mold flourished in the houses because of poorly insulated duct work in the air conditioning systems that caused the ducts to sweat, leading to water damage and an unhealthy living environment.

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©2018 The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Miss.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service