Olympia, WA – Mary Eckley’s mold-ridden Forest Glen apartment was condemned recently, leaving her homeless. Eckley pitched a tent and lived with her two children in the woods for two weeks.”Tent living, or nothing, is better than those apartments,” said Eckley, who now lives in a Steamboat Island mobile home. “I would never have moved my kids into that toxic environment had I known.”
Eckley is one of the first of what could be a flood of residents leaving condemned Forest Glen apartments.
A Thurston County Housing Task Force report says that Forest Glen, 1717 Cooper Point Road in west Olympia, has a “serious mold problem, which threatens the health of its occupants.”
The worst-case scenario is that up to 60 households will be displaced, according to the report.
The report states that the displaced people could overwhelm existing resources for emergency, transitional and permanent housing.
A local religious group is trying to find homes and help for displaced residents.
“We are contacting churches and other faith communities and asking if they would consider sponsoring displaced families,” said Kathy Erlandson, executive director of Associated Ministries of Thurston County.
Associated Ministries also created a bank account for donations that will be used to help displaced residents find new homes.
The city of Olympia has hired an industrial hygienist to go throughout the 116-unit complex and test for molds that can cause breathing difficulties and other ailments.
Mold is visible at Forest Glen and the city is trying to determine how bad the problem is and whether it is dangerous to residents, said Brian Washko, an Olympia building official.
Eli Moreno, the complex’s owner, did not return several phone calls from The Olympian.
Forest Glen has a troubled history.
During a March 2000 inspection, city code officers found violations in 85 of the 116 apartments.
Roof and wall leaks in the flat-topped buildings were determined to be one cause of the mold.
Forest Glen’s K building was condemned then and remains empty.
How Much Is Toxic?
There is no clearly defined level of toxic molds.
Research into mold toxicity is fairly new, said Dr. James Brown, a Tacoma-based allergist who treated Eckley and her children.
“Therefore, there is controversy surrounding it,” Brown said.
Eckley’s move out of her Forest Glen apartment eased her allergy problems, Brown wrote in a medical report.
For now, the city is basing its decision to condemn Forest Glen units on guidelines developed by the New York City Department of Health, which dictate that more than 30 square feet of mold create unsafe levels of toxins.
For a year, Eckley said, she lived with five different types of molds.
They crept across her walls in wide black strips, in splotches under her sink, and on windowsills.
Mold saturated her drywall and grew under the paint, in the insulation and on interior woodwork. Mold appeared on her carpets and sofa, in her children’s rooms and on their stuffed toys.
Tests Revealed Airborne Mold Spores
During that time, she and her family developed nosebleeds, breathing difficulties, rashes, ear infections, lethargy and other ailments, Eckley said.
Other former and current Forest Glen residents report similar problems.
Teresa Hunter, who lived at Forest Glen for a year, said she left after becoming asthmatic and enduring repeated bouts of bronchitis.
“The mold doesn’t stop at my apartment. It’s everywhere,” Eckley said. “Practically everyone I know that lives there has health problems.
“I would bulldoze the whole place if I could.”