Mom says kids sickened by apartment mold as Pierce County sees uptick in similar housing issues

LAKEWOOD, Wash. — A Lakewood mother shared cellphone video with KIRO 7 that she said shows mold covering her apartment walls at the Pacific Walk Townhomes -- a problem she said won’t go away and has made her children sick.

"All three of my kids have gotten double ear infections and upper respiratory infections,” said Miranda Lopez. “It’s heartbreaking because there’s nothing I can do to remedy the situation right away; I mean, we can’t break a lease, we can’t get up and move, all I can do is give them medication and hope that they can get better.”

County-wide, Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department told KIRO 7 it has recently seen an increase in reported housing issues like mold. With the help of a $200,000 grant, the health department is working to put together a first-of-its-kind series of community meetings to help identify solutions.

“We have noticed an uptick just in all sorts of housing issues, whether it’s mold, cockroaches, bed bugs; other pest concerns, such as rodents,” said Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department Environmental Health Supervisor Judy Olsen. “I think everybody knows the housing market is under a great deal of pressure right now, and so I think that may be something behind the uptick and those concerns.”

The health department does not have regulatory power over rental housing issues but encourages people who are experiencing housing problems, like mold, to connect with them by signing up for “Healthy Homes” notifications to take part in the upcoming meetings, expected to begin next month. Dates and locations have not yet been released.

Lopez said her mold problems started two months after the family moved into the apartment complex. She said the family is also dealing with a rodent problem.

“I’ve caught at least 30 (rodents) since moving in, in February,” said Lopez. “Pest control comes weekly – they’re in the walls so you can hear them scratching at night.”

Pacific Walk Townhomes has only offered band-aid fixes for the mold and rodents, according to Lopez, who feels the problems are largely swept under the rug by management.

She said management has sent a maintenance worker to paint over the problem areas with mold-killing paint, but she said it always returns. Ventilating the home and other remedies have not worked, she said.

Online reviews of the Pacific Walk Townhomes reveal years of complaints about mold and rodents – complaints Lopez said she wishes she would’ve read prior to signing the lease.

"I feel trapped in my own home,” said Lopez. “It’s out of control at this point; it’s an infestation.”

In a statement to KIRO 7, Pacific Walk Townhomes’ regional director of property management said:

"The safety and well-being of our residents is our top priority and we are actively looking into the recent resident complaint.

"To that end, once we learned of the issue, we took immediate action and retained third-party experts to help us evaluate if there is a mold problem and if one is found, how best to fully remedy it.

"SoundEarth’s inspection did not reveal any widespread visible mold growth or identify significant moisture sources that could contribute to conditions conducive to the development of a widespread mold problem.

"Some localized areas of surficial mold growth were observed on interior surfaces but in limited amounts and in areas where localized surficial mold growth is common (i.e. window sills).

"The consultant provided our building management team with recommendations for cleaning the limited areas of surficial mold growth and provided recommendations for increasing air circulation and lowering relative humidity in the apartment units to reduce the potential for surface mold to reform.

"We understand there may also be concerns about rodents around the property and we will use this same high-standard of proactive investigation with experts to get to the bottom of any possible probes.

“As we stated previously, no matter what the issue, our top priority is the safety and well-being of all who live and work here.”