Health Department urges affected Willowbrook residents to seek medical attention

dgraham@bradenton.comMarch 1, 2013 

EAST MANATEE -- State Sen. Bill Galvano on Thursday assured the beleaguered Willowbrook community that whoever wants to have a qualified mold assessment of their residence can get one.

Accompanied by Dr. Jennifer Bencie, administrator of the Manatee County Health Department, and Tom Larkin, director of environmental health, Galvano visited neighbors affected by the persistent construction and mold problems, urging those suffering from health issues to contact their family physicians and to have an inspection done by a licensed company.

Building 13 has already tested positive for mold, and repairs have begun, Galvano said.

The 272-unit complex in eastern Manatee County, built by KB Home, has been plagued with serious construction deficiencies. The county has declared 46 balconies in Willowbrook unsafe since inspections began in August 2012.

While her home hasn't been tested, Ashley Delph has been raising her 18-month-old baby under the adverse conditions. "My husband is sneezing and coughing, but only in our house, and he works in pollen all day," she said.

Bencie assured her, "We are here to assist you. If you have possible signs and symptoms, going into a different environment and comparing your health might be beneficial."

"Depending on your genetics, risk factors, your immune suppression, everyone responds differently with different mold," Bencie said.

If there is mold growth in a home, the Health Department recommends residents seek medical attention from a health care provider and monitor their health for signs of mold-related illnesses. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, nasal stuffiness and skin and eye irritation, according to information given to residents.

"We're stuck," said Delph, whose unit has been under repair for three months.

"They've taken three months to get this far on our building, this one building. They can't even tell us when its going to get done, so literally, how long is it going to take the neighborhood to get done? We're never going to be able to sell our places."

KB Home has made arrangements for her family to move into a motel for the weekend, but Delph said she doesn't think the child will sleep there and that it will be too difficult to manage the family out of a single room without a kitchen or laundry.

"I want to grow our family. We have one bedroom. It's just not fair. They need to just do it," she said. "I'm about ready to go sit in somebody's office all day every day and tell them, 'You need to do the right thing or else I'm going to live in your office'.

"The silly part is that we already went through the worst times," she said. "I'm happy for the people going forward, but it's still a nightmare."

Galvano also volunteered that a licensed mold assessor from his office would be happy to work with homeowners.

KB Home released a statement Friday afternoon about the Willowbrook situation.

"KB Home remains committed to Willowbrook residents and making repairs to their homes.

"As part of our commitment, we have offered temporary relocation to those Willowbrook residents that are currently going through active repairs. Several homeowners have decided to utilize this option, while others have chosen to stay in their residence.

"KB Home has also offered interior mold testing to every Willowbrook homeowner. In fact, interior mold tests have been conducted on several units and we will continue to offer this to any homeowner who requests," the statement said.

"We appreciate the homeowners' patience as we work to make repairs to the homes in Willowbrook," the statement concluded.

For more information on the health impacts of mold exposure, residents should call the Florida Department of Health at 1-800-543-8279.

Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-748-0411, ext. 7024.

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