EXCLUSIVE STORY: Breaking The Mold Pt. 1

The relationship between tenant and landlord is often a tumultuous one. That generalization couldn't be truer than at one Mishawaka apartment complex, where for months, renters have fought sicknesses thought to be brought on by mold.

Despite dozens of complaints, management at the Kensard Manor Apartments did its very best to ignore the problem, until NewsCenter 16 decided to expose it.

"It started with the sneezing, the eyes running itchy you know, throat scratchy. I just try not to get too upset,” Zola Blivin, 72, said.

Last month, NewsCenter 16 reported on Blivin’s health complications, manifested, in her doctor's written opinion, by mold inside her apartment.

Just one floor up, our original story caught the attention of Matt and Jaclyn Rael, parents of a 3-year-old daughter and infant son.

"We started seeing different changes in our immune systems. We'd get coughs, sneezing and our skin would be irritated,” Matt Rael said.

Blivin's discovery prompted the Rael's to examine their vents too. They soon uncovered a blackish-gray fuzzy substance, nestled in every nook and cranny.

"This is the vent in our bedroom actually and this is where we sleep. This is right above our bed,” Matt added.

"As soon as we found out about it, we told Matt, ‘You've got to get out of there, and you've got to get that baby out of there,’” Matt’s father Leo Rael said.

In an act of desperation, the Rael family packed-up just two days later; risking fines from a broken lease.

"I have to talk to myself and not lose my temper because if it was up to me, I’d be knocking on the door down there saying, ‘What the hell's the matter with you people,’” Leo said with visible anger painted across his face.

In pursuit of validity, inspector Jim Johnson of Osceola-based Mold Finders tested the Rael’s apartment for the mold in question.

Johnson began with a strip-test inside the master bedroom. The exam took less than 30 seconds as he pressed an adhesive microscope slide along the unquestionably dirty vent.

“We’re actually going to come into the vent and take a sample so we know what air has been blowing here. We’re now going to send this off to the laboratory,” Johnson said with a slide in hand.

Test two involved taking an entire chunk of the fuzzy substance from the very same duct.

“As you can see, it is black in color so I’m suspect of it, but the lab will tell us if it’s mold or not,” Johnson added.

Our third sample came from the trim alongside the sliding-glass door in the family room. Like before, Johnson took a strip test of what could be one, of more than 1,000 variations of mold.

"Okay what we're going to do now is we're going to come out where the furnace is located and we're going to check the area around the furnace,” Johnson said.

After all, it was the utility room where Zola Blivin found the bulk of her suspect mold.

"I want to get a piece of this right here,” Johnson grunted as he bent down to grab a lump of black insulation, ripped directly from the Rael's furnace cover. He then sealed his fourth sample collected, inside a plastic bag

The last part to our analysis involved an air test, in which a pump sucked oxygen from a sealed-off room, into a Petri dish for sampling. The test took ten minutes and is considered the most valuable piece of data when examining mold.

"We seal it here and we also seal it here, two ways,” Johnson mentioned.

While conducting our air test, a man who introduced himself as David Kozak forced his way into the Rael’s apartment. St. Joseph County property records identify Kozak as one of three co-owners of the Kensard Manor Apartments.

During our unexpected interview with Kozak, NewsCenter 16 had yet to receive the results of our mold tests. We have them now though and they can be found in part two of “Breaking The Mold." To read and view that story, just click on the link below.

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