HENRICO COUNTY, Va. — Sitting around their kitchen table, Courtney Whalum and her son Hendrix are battling it out over a game of "Trouble." Looking at her on this particular day, you wouldn't know the actual trouble this single mom said she's been fighting for the past three months.
"It's so frustrating," said Whalum.
It all started back in January at The Madison apartments in Short Pump.
"The original place we saw the mold was in this vent here," Whalum said, as she showed CBS 6 an air vent in her former apartment at The Madison. "My seven-year-old son was standing next to me, and when we took the cover off, it was covered in mold. I mean, it was like, fluffy, it was, was so thick."
Whalum said she quickly learned her son's bathroom wasn't the only concern.
"Something told me to open this door," she said as she took CBS 6 inside the unit's water closet. "I had never opened this door. This wall was black. It was completely horrifying."
Whalum said she reported the issue through her apartment's maintenance portal on Jan. 31. Four days later, a maintenance worker determined a broken water heater was to blame.
"The first maintenance guy had sprayed some sort of bleach mixture," she explained. "He'd sprayed my walls down. He sprayed the vent down. My house wreaked of chemicals. When I asked him what the next step was, he was going to cut into the wall and fix the mold. That was his plan to fix it."
Whalum said this was all to occur while she and Hendrix remained inside the home.
"Then they put a box fan, not a dehumidifier, not a spore scrubber, they put a box fan in the closet with the water heater, which is now blowing mold spores all throughout my house. He didn't seal it."
Whalum then reached out to the Virginia Department of Health, who told her the area should have been encapsulated, covered from floor to ceiling with plastic, and sealed off.
On Feb. 6, concerned for their health, the mother and son moved into a nearby hotel.
"Initially, they told me that they wouldn't reimburse me for all of my hotel expenses. And I was like, absolutely not, I just gave you $2,100," Whalum said. "I don't have money to now give to a hotel."
The Madison, which is owned and managed by Simpson Housing, agreed to pay for Whalum's hotel stay. They sent contractors out to address the mold on Feb. 9.
Whalum said that's when she received a call from management stating it was safe to move back in, but she was hesitant and requested an air quality test first.
"I got a call saying my apartment had failed the air inspection, the air quality tests," she said. "I was told that it would take potentially another month for them to get approval and get back out and do mold remediation again."
Whalum said she requested a copy of that air quality test, but claimed management would not give her the results.
So she paid $400 to have a mold test conducted by Mechanicsville-based Ecosystems Environmental Services Inc.
"It says I have four different types of mold," Whalum said as she received the test results while CBS 6 was inside her former unit.
Linda McKoy is Ecosystems Environmental Services president. She said mold exposure should never be taken lightly, especially when a child is involved.
"Even if you have just what I call a mild allergic response, where you get some sinus drainage and runny eyes, you can get secondary infections just because of all the fluid that tends to drain down into the lung tissue," McKoy said. "So, you know, which can certainly lead to pneumonia, bronchitis, and even death."
McKoy conducted the inspection inside Whalum's unit at The Madison, and, in addition to listing the four types of mold found inside, her report stated a professional HVAC contractor should be called to evaluate the ventilation system and a professional mold remediation contractor should be hired to do extensive cleaning.
Whalum isn't the only former resident at the apartment complex to raise a red flag.
"All of this is in the vents that are going to be blowing down on top of us," Cari Barrett, who used to live in the same building as Whalum at The Madison, said. "This is laminate under laminate that is just absolutely soaking wet, and you can tell the mold growth around here."
Barrett said she had mold in her first apartment at the complex, and an Ecosystems Environmental Services test found mold in her second unit.
"I have two small kids, and I have asthma myself," Barrett explained. "So what's that going to do to my kids?"
CBS 6 reached out to Simpson Housing, and a senior regional manager responded that a small area of mold found in Whalum's HVAC closet from a prior unknown leak was remediated in accordance with Virginia code.
The company also said they found no visible mold growth in Barrett's first apartment but transferred her to her new unit to make her comfortable. And the property manager added their experts found Ecosystems Environmental Services mold test to be unreliable. But Barrett was also offered the option to break her lease, like Whalum, and moved out.
"Mold is not a band-aid issue," Barrett explained. "Mold is something that needs to be taken care of correctly."
Meanwhile, Whalum said she's concerned for those still living at The Madison and future residents.
"100% a fear that they are not going to do it," she said. "That they are going to air it out, open the windows and someone else will move back in here, and they won't know. Just like me, they won't know."
While Whalum is now living in a new apartment complex, she said she still has not been reimbursed for the mold test or the thousands of dollars worth of items she said she had to throw away because of the mold exposure.
She noted Simpson Housing has offered her two separate payment settlements, but that they haven't been enough to fully cover the more than $3,000 she estimated she lost in damaged personal items, the mold test, and expenses while she and her son had to stay in a hotel.
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