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Infestation Threatens Homes
Updated: Sun, Aug 19, 2001, By BRIAN WITTE, Associated Press Writer
BELCOURT, N.D. (AP)
- Lowella Allard no longer goes into her basement, where mold grips the
walls and the damp, thick air is hard to breathe. Mold, she says, festers
inside the insulation and is the reason behind her dry cough and frequent
"I go through
Tylenol like crazy and I just don't get any better," Allard said during a
tour of her home by officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
federally subsidized homes on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation are
infested with mold. Residents say the infestation is sickening, and tribal
officials say at least seven deaths in recent years could be related to the
infestation, which is so pervasive they estimate 210 homes will have to be
destroyed. Roughly 4,000 houses occupy the 72,000-acre reservation in
north-central North Dakota. About 8,300 people call it home. Most of the
infested homes are small - about 600 square feet with two bedrooms. They are
built of wood-frame construction, have dirt floors and sit on a concrete
block foundation over crawl spaces. Tribal officials are especially worried
about the black mold, which can cause flu-like and allergy-like symptoms that
can include skin rashes, inflammation of the respiratory tract, bloody
noses, fever, headaches, neurological problems and suppression of the immune
Decoteau, whose mold-infested home was one of the five that officials
visited in July, said she believes the mold contributed to the death of her
15-month-old daughter in 1998. Kyra Rose died shortly after running a
"That much mold
has got to do something to a baby," she said. "There's mold everywhere."
believes two dams - Belcourt Dam near the city and Gordon Lake Dam, just off
the reservation - may be contributing to excessive moisture, which could be
exacerbating the mold. Additionally, a wet cycle in recent years has enabled
the mold to thrive in homes. Crawl spaces under some homes are flooded with
2 feet to 3 feet of standing water. After a brief visit to the stuffy
basement as Allard waited in her kitchen, Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota
said he could understand why she stays upstairs.
"This is bad.
No wonder the woman is sick," he said as his eyes swept over a mold-covered
Later in the
tour, he said he, too, felt unwell even though his visits indoors were
brief. "I've never had that feeling in my life," he said as he described
being overwhelmed by musty air that made him gag.
certainly a number of unexplained deaths, especially of children," Conrad
said, "and we know that they had respiratory problems and we know that
respiratory problems are caused by this type of black mold."
Richard Monette said seven or eight deaths in recent years are believed to
be related to black mold.
"We have no
idea the scope of this health problem," he said. "The one thing that's clear
to me is that it's going to be beyond what everybody is going to want to
tribal officials have sought federal help. Congress approved $5 million in
July to address the problem, and Conrad, who describes the infestation as an
emergency situation, said he is seeking another $4 million.
can't be a slum lord," Conrad said. "The federal government's got a legal
But even the
additional money, Conrad conceded, likely won't be sufficient to fully
address the problem. He estimated about $20 million would be needed.
"This is not a
circumstance where you've got a little mold in a corner," Conrad said. "This
is a situation where you have mold that's throughout the structure ... in
the insulation, in the ceilings. I've never seen anything quite like it."
reports commissioned by the tribe have found large amounts of sickening mold
in homes, and the authors recommend moving residents out as soon as
"Let's just say
it's as bad a mold situation as I've ever run across, and I've been doing
this for almost 15 years," said Ronald Pearson, the principal toxicologist
and industrial hygienist for Environmental Health and Safety Inc., a private
consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn.
The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention is in the preliminary stages of testing homes
for black mold, spokeswoman Bernadette Burdon said.
CDC report found that three out of every four homes sampled had mold, said
Becky Phelps, director of the Turtle Mountain Housing Authority.
already has moved about 25 families from severely infested homes to less
moldy ones. But some reservation residents have held protests, saying a
response to their plight is not happening fast enough.
been moving people out based on medical emergencies as we get other units
vacated for them to move into, but we're bottoming out in that area," Phelps
said. The Army Corps of Engineers has also signed on to help build about 40
new homes, said Tim Grundhoffer, a civil engineer with the corps.
Construction is due to begin in Sept.
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