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February 18, 2002 - Mold allegations lead to lawsuit

LAS VEGAS - Cynthia Jackson says she started feeling ill within three months of starting her job at the Nevada Child & Family Services offices on West Charleston Boulevard. The former mental health counselor for the agency said she suffered from constant dizziness, severe heart palpitations and chronic fatigue. The illnesses have persisted for months, she said, causing several visits to specialists and thousands of dollars in medical bills. 'There are times I thought I was going to have a heart attack,' she said. 'I've been to the emergency room twice.' Jackson is not alone in alleging unhealthy work conditions at the property at 6171 W. Charleston Blvd., east of Rainbow Boulevard. 'We have too many people who feel the same way,' said Lynn Stewart, who works at residential treatment homes on West Charleston. 'The incidents of upper respiratory infections are out of this world.'

Stewart, Jackson and 78 other state employees allege in a lawsuit their suffering is a result of exposure to mold growing in old buildings where there are leaky pipes and where structural cracks allow rainwater to seep inside. The complaint, filed earlier this month, names the state of Nevada and other entities associated with the property as defendants. 'When you talk to these people, most say they never got sick before this,' Jackson said. 'The stories are all the same.' State officials said last week they have begun remediating some 11 buildings on the property at a cost of about $1.5 million. Susan Dunt, a risk manager for the state, said it is possible some workers may have had health problems because of the mold. 'Some people may be experiencing adverse health effects,' Dunt said. 'We have offered them through our workers compensation program the opportunity to be evaluated by specialists. We are taking each person's case on an individual basis.' But Dunt said that the severity of any illnesses is subject to significant debate. 'The information we have received from our occupational health consultations is that there are no established long-term effects from the exposure to mold,' Dunt said. 'It is acknowledged further study is needed.'

The 11 buildings are home to several Family & Youth Services programs, including mental health services and therapeutic preschool inpatient services. The facilities have been there since the mid-'70s, said Family & Youth Services Deputy Director Christa Peterson. Jennifer Heitzenrater, project coordinator for the remediation, said at least three types of mold have been found. She said stachybotrys,.phpergillus and penicillium molds have been confirmed as present on the property. Those types of molds can cause severe illness, especially in small children and the elderly, and can be especially problematic for people with compromised immune systems, some scientists have said. The Pahrump Valley High School was recently shut down indefinitely because of mold, and similar problems have been reported at the Howard Cannon Center on 11th Street in Las Vegas. James Edwards, a lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the workers, said the state has neglected its duty in protecting its employees. He said his office has obtained a letter from the Nevada office of Occupational Safety and Health Enforcement detailing health complaints at the West Charleston complex as early as 1995. The state, he said, didn't start remediation until 2001. 'One lady was hospitalized for a month and she didn't know what was making her sick,' Edwards said. 'It was the mold. They had people who were complaining about the mold and getting sick and they didn't do anything about it.'.

Stewart said a belief that there was a lack of action by the state is shared by many Child & Family Services employees. 'Maintenance requests have been going in for years and they don't get done,' she said. Jackson said she resigned because of frustration over a lack of response to the problem. She said she was forced to use all of her sick days and go into debt for medical treatment. 'They are still leaving children in the residential buildings 24 hours a day, seven days a week,' Jackson said. The two women also said there have been threats of retaliation against workers who have complained. 'I've been depressed and discouraged by it,' Jackson said. 'It's been so long and there is no resolution.' State officials said they are not aware of any OSHA letter, and that they initially became aware of the problem in November of 2000. They said the situation has been addressed as promptly as possible with concern for workers' well-being. 'I understand that the employees have become frustrated because the investigation and remediation process takes a longer period of time than what they had hoped,' Dunt said. Laurie Buck, an attorney with the Nevada Attorney General's Office who is defending the state against the lawsuit, said state officials have been meeting weekly to discuss all issues stemming from employee complaints. 'When employees come forward and indicate they have a problem, we jump on it,' Buck said. Dunt said after the problem was confirmed in November of 2000 at a single building, a decision was made to temporarily relocate employees from that building. 'What happened was once we relocated, the employees reported additional problems,' Dunt said. Dunt said once the need for a cleanup was studied and defined, it took time to secure the $1.5 million in funding from the state Legislature, which meets every two years. The anticipated completion date of the cleanup is now scheduled for June 30. Dunt said the state's No. 1 goal is removing the mold and the leaks causing it. 'This should result in the clearing up of any health symptoms,' she said.

In all Sick Building Syndrome cases it is essential that measures be taken promptly to preserve evidence, investigate the incident in question, and to enable physicians or other expert witnesses to thoroughly evaluate any injuries. If you or a loved one is a victim of injury as a result of exposure to toxic mold, call now at or CLICK HERE TO SUBMIT A CASE FORM. The initial consultation is free of charge, and if we agree to accept your case, we will work on a contingent fee basis, which means we get paid for our services only if there is a monetary award or recovery of funds. Don't delay! You may have a valid claim and be entitled to compensation for your injuries, but a lawsuit must be filed before the statute of limitations expires.

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