Matt Shugert and his 10-year-old daughter, Juliana Shugert, are moving back into their apartment at the Ridge Crest complex on the Idaho State University campus this weekend after being evacuated more than a month ago due to black mold growth.
Matt said the mold was caused by a leaky window that was never repaired, even though he had reported it to ISU Housing multiple times. He said years of black mold growth at his residence made him sick.
A former wildland firefighter, Matt started getting sick about five years ago. He had no ongoing medical issues and was in the best shape of his life when suddenly he began to experience a variety of symptoms.
Headache, fatigue, fainting, dizziness, sleep disorders, respiratory difficulty and problems concentrating were among his growing list of ailments.
A native of Wisconsin and member of the Bad River Band of Chippewa, Shugert said his health continued to deteriorate. He saw a number of physicians who didn’t seem to be able to explain or relieve his symptoms.
Then Shugert was referred to David Bilstrom, a physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, and the director of the Bingham Memorial Center for Functional Medicine and the International Autoimmune Institute in Blackfoot.
Bilstrom diagnosed Shugert with a chronic illness caused by mold exposure.
A graduate student at Idaho State University, Shugert has lived in the two-bedroom apartment he rents from Idaho State University Housing for the past seven years.
He said the source of mold was water leaking through a window and between the walls.
“It was leaking into the interior of the house and onto the wood outside,” Matt said.
Ten-year-old daughter Juliana also lives at the apartment part time and he’s concerned about her health.
“I intend to have Juliana tested for exposure, I’m not waiting for symptoms,” Matt said.
The Ridge Crest apartment complex includes about 80 apartments in 10 separate buildings. Matt pays $655 per month to rent the unit.
“We’ve really liked being up here,” Matt said. “When we moved in, it was family housing, but that’s changed. And I stayed here because I wanted a stable, safe home for my daughter. I planned on staying until I finish my education.”
After his diagnosis, Matt was placed on medication and on Jan. 4, he again contacted ISU.
On Jan. 7, a crew finally did show up and they removed the exterior siding revealing several years of black mold growth.
“They really didn’t do anything except replace the plywood on the exterior. They didn’t remove or replace the insulation and the siding is still off. Now, there is a stream of water running through the window,” Matt said. “If anything, I got sicker. The medicine they gave me was working until they stirred everything up.”
Matt reported the leaky window again on Jan. 26.
Last month, Matt meet with Craig Thompson, director of housing at ISU to discuss the problem and how it could best be resolved.
“(Thompson) told me they could move me into another apartment, but then he said that apartment also had mold, and he said it would be a few days before anything else opened up,” Matt said. “I thought that they planned to move me out of here so they didn’t have to do anything about the mold.”
Matt also served ISU Housing a three-day notice regarding repairs at his apartment and he consulted a local, independent mold abatement crew to assess the problem at his home.
He served the notice in compliance with Idaho housing code to ensure that he and Juliana would not simply be evicted to avoid proper mold abatement in the apartment, he said.
“I filed the notice to protect my rights,” Matt said.
Thompson said the university responded as soon as they were aware that there was a problem and he denied having knowledge of other units at ISU that have mold.
He said university safety technicians and abatement experts are working to identify possible sources and eradicate mold at the Ridge Crest Apartments. Crews are using bleach to kill the mold and housing officials will continue to investigate possible contamination in other units at Ridge Crest to address any safety issues.
ISU Housing manages 310 apartment units and 856 beds in campus dormitories.
“The safety of students and our tenants is our main priority,” Thompson said. “We will continue to investigate and we’re going to start in (Matt’s) building.”
Crews moved and stored Matt’s belongings in a vacant apartment. And the university put Matt and Juliana up in a guest room until their dwelling is clear of mold.
“When I met with Thompson, I got the feeling that he didn’t know about this,” Matt said. “I want to give him the benefit of the doubt because if he was never informed by his staff about this problem then that puts him in a bad position, which I think is unfair."
And he’s not convinced that the problem has been resolved at his apartment.
“I’ve been told by a mold specialist that all of our stuff, our chairs and sofa and mattresses are still contaminated,” Matt said. “Basically, they moved dirty stuff back into a clean apartment.”
Matt said ISU did not bring in a mold abatement specialist and he was not informed about what measures were taken to remove the mold.
“I’ve been pretty much kept out of the loop. I was not included on the process,” Matt said.
It will be sometime before Matt knows if he will suffer residual effects from the contamination and he still plans to consult with an attorney.
“For me the issue is tenants’ rights. They’ve known about the mold since the beginning of January and they still haven’t done anything,” Matt said. “People need to know and need to get checked out if they’re having symptoms.”
Typically symptoms gradually disappear once exposure to black mold ceases. But toxic exposure can cause permanent damage to the immune system.
“I just wanted to know why it took them so long to do anything, why didn’t they ever fix the leak in the first place,” Matt said. “And are they letting current and past tenants know that there’s a health risk and they need to get checked?”
Symptoms of toxic black mold exposure include mental and neurological problems, respiratory symptoms, wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing, as well as circulatory issues, vision and eye problems, skin problems, immune system failure, reproductive problems, tiredness and discomfort.
Mold can be remediated using bleach, vinegar, borax, ammonia, tea tree oil or grapefruit seed extract.
The key to preventing mold growth is controlling moisture, like leaky windows, Matt said.
HIP staff regularly teach prospective clients the difference between what is minor surface mould and what is indicative of a wider issue and is requir...
Practical Information to Help Homeowners Understand and Deal with Mould / Mold