Mold forces family out of Bradley Beach home

By Bill Bowman • COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU • August 10, 2008

John McBride's life these days is centered on help: giving it and getting it.

McBride, 45, said he, his wife, Cynthia, and their three children — Samantha, 12, Jessica, 10, and John, 16 — were forced out of their rented home in Bradley Beach earlier this year because of a massive mold problem.

After months of asking for help from local and state officials, the family was moved into an Eatontown motel. Now, in between looking for a new home, caring for himself and his family and hoping to return to work, McBride said, he's turning to state legislators to make sure what happened to him doesn't happen to others.

McBride wants a state law to compel property owners to fix mold problems in their buildings as soon as they are discovered.

State Sen. Sean Kean, R-Monmouth, said he plans to sign on as a primary co-sponsor to legislation introduced by Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, which, Kean said, would address problems such as those McBride said he encountered.

McBride's also turned to two lawyers, Jack Polloway and Patricia Bennett, both of Red Bank, to get some justice for himself.

The mold has affected the health of everyone in his family and, McBride said, led to the death of the family cat, Cuddles.

"My family is very sick," McBride said. "I don't know what is going to happen with all of this. "This is a disaster."

The McBride family's problems began sometime after they moved into the home on Fourth Avenue in Bradley Beach home five years ago, McBride said.

McBride had gone on disability from the credit control manager's job he held in New York City shortly before moving into the home, he said. Recovery from knee surgery took longer than expected, forcing him to take time off, he said. Within months of moving in, he said, he noticed that his knee was not healing, and that it was becoming harder for him to walk, among other things.

Among his other ailments: chest pains, body tremors, headaches and blurred vision, he said.

"I had blood tests going back to 2004 and 2005, showing my white blood count high. Nobody knew why," he said.

"I couldn't walk, talk or anything starting last October, right after the heat went on," he said. "Then we bring up the Christmas tree from the basement, and it smelled terrible."

One daughter, Jessica, began to get fevers, he said.

"Every month, for a week or two," McBride said.

After many tests could not pinpoint the problem, McBride said, his primary doctor, Dr. Harold M. Cotter of Wall, suggested that he might have a mold problem in his home.

The family's pediatrician, Dr. Kristen Atienza of Neptune, said that mold was probably at the root of their childrens' problems.

A note Cotter wrote to McBride recommends that the family find new housing "'due to mold toxicity."

McBride said his family's health problems intensified during the winter months, when the heat was on.

Once the suggestion was made that mold could be the problem, McBride jumped into action. He had two contractors give estimates to fix the problem, one coming in at $24,000.

He wrote several letters to his landlord, Mary Nitti, asking her to fix the situation, and he also called county and state health officials, all to no avail, he said.

Nitti did not return calls for comment.

McBride later scratched together the money necessary to have a team come down from Rutgers University to test the house.

May 7 results from the tests, conducted by the Rutgers Plant Diagnostics Laboratory in Milltown — part of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station — showed the presence of stachybotrys, according to a memo sent by the station.

Stachybotrys, McBride said, is "said to be rare, but one of the most toxic molds there is."

The Centers for Disease Control's Web site notes that if stachybotrys "or other molds are found in a building, prudent practice recommends that they be removed."

It got to the point, McBride said, where he and his family had to sleep while wearing face masks.

On May 23, Bradley Beach's construction official, Don Clare, issued a notice of unsafe structure to the owner. The notice required the building to be demolished by June 21 or to be repaired by June 27.

Clare declined to comment for this report, but construction work is being performed on the house.

Among the building's violations Clare noted in the order were fire damage in the floor joists and that the brick foundation appeared "'distressed."

"Tenant is complaining of severe mold condition in the basement and in the living space," Clare noted in the report. "Tenant has obtained estimates from a mold remediation company, a waterproofing company and a doctor, all of which state a mold issue exists" in the home, he wrote in the report.

Clare required that a "mold clearance report by an engineer or accredited agency be obtained" before anyone could resume occupancy in the house.

The family was out of the house for about a week by that time, McBride said. An Asbury Park-based social service agency, Check-Mate Inc., paid for the McBrides to stay at an Eatontown motel for 29 days, said Ernie Rivera, Check-Mate's community development manager.

That aid has expired, McBride said, and he is now paying for the room himself.

The family lost most of its belongings because they were infested with mold spores and were making the family sick, even in the motel, McBride said.

"Everything we had is lost," he said.

McBride in July filed suit against Nitti, through Polloway. Polloway said the case is still in its infancy.

He said Nitti has filed a counterclaim, alleging that any mold, if it is there, was caused by the McBrides.

McBride said he's feeling better and hopes he can soon return to work, although not at the job he held when he moved into the Fourth Avenue house.

He also said he has been talking with staff from the office of Kean about the proposed bill. The legislation he would like to see enacted, he said, would require property owners to test suspected mold immediately after it is found and to remediate any problems.

McBride said anyone who wants to join in his fight can e-mail him at moldleg333@live.com