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I-Team Special Report: Harmful Homes

Updated: Wednesday, May 7, 2014 |
I-Team Special Report: Harmful Homes story image
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) - A Kalamazoo woman says she was led astray by both the city and the state when she tried to make her home safe for her and her family.

The Newschannel 3 took an inside look at the woman's two year battle to remove lead from her house.

Like most people, Brandi Crawford-Johnson knew very little about the dangers of lead for children or how to remove lead from a home, until it became the all consuming part of her life she's been dealing with for years.

When she bought her 110-year-old house from the City of Kalamazoo she felt it was full of potential, but she says what the city never told her was that it was also full of lead.

"I got a letter from the City of Kalamazoo saying they forgot to give me the disclosure to tell you there was lead. So since they sent me that letter, since they didn't tell me, I said they should have to pay for having my lead removed," Brandi said.

Her 8-year-old son had an elevated lead blood level, and the city agreed to give her $115,000 to remove the lead and cover other costs.

That's when Brandi started dealing with the State of Michigan lead program, which she says introduced her to Midwest Builders.

She signed a contract directly with the company which is based in Nunica.

"The only thing I thought was strange was they weren't wearing protective gear," Brandi said. "I thought the workers would be wearing suits and masks and stuff like that."

Although they didn't tell her, the I-Team uncovered in these state records that state inspectors went to her house in June and issued nine citations to Midwest.

Some of the reasons, according to state paperwork: the company had workers on the site uncertified in handling lead; there was no plastic ground cover being used in the house; crews used ordinary brooms instead of HEPA vacuums; Brandi's heating vents weren't sealed before work started; and unwrapped debris was being tossed on the floors.

Midwest was orginally fined $13,100 but that was later reduced to $2,840.

"They just didn't do it right," said attorney Donnelly Hadden. "They didn't follow the rules correctly and obviously didn't clean up because it's still contaminated."

But Hadden says he's also worried that the state didn't tell Brandi any of this, and the house passed a third-party inspection by a company Midwest chose.

Brandi says she paid Midwest $64,000 and moved back in.

"So she moves back in, thinking it's clean, and the state knew it wasn't; should have known," Hadden said.

"I was really upset, because I didn't know the extent of what they did until six months after they were at my house," said Brandi.

Brandi had her own test done, by another state-recommended lead inspector, and sure enough, according to this inspection, there is still lead throughout the house.

We went to Midwest's office and have asked the company for an explanation for several weeks but haven't heard back.

But as the the I-Team was investigating the story we came across this: Midwest is still one of the top recommended lead removal companies listed on the Michigan Department of Community Health's website. They are even described as qualified to train other companies.

After initially agreeing to let the I-Team interview officials with the lead program, the Department of Community Health later backed out and told us no one could talk to us because of the chance of a lawsuit.

"I'm worried that other families like me think they have a lead clearance that's safe and they probably have lead in their house or yard possibly," Brandi said.

Brandi is living in her house, but so far no one in her family is testing at a high lead blood level.

Two weeks ago she did file a lawsuit against Midwest.

We also found Midwest was just selected by the state to do a new government subsidized project in Battle Creek where a small child is again involved.
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Business News

Last Update on July 29, 2014 17:09 GMT

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumers are more confident about the economy than they have been in nearly seven years.

The Conference Board's confidence index rose to 90.9 in July from an upwardly revised 86.4 in June. The July reading is the highest since October 2007, two months before the Great Recession officially began.

It was the third straight increase in the index. Economists said that strong job growth has helped boost consumers' assessment of current conditions and also improved their outlook on jobs and the economy.

Conference Board economist Lynn Franco says that the improvements in consumers' confidence and expectations about the future indicate that the recent strengthening in overall economic growth should continue in the second half of the year.

HOME PRICES

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. home prices rose in May from a year earlier, but at the weakest pace in 15 months.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index increased 9.3 percent in May from 12 months earlier. That's down from 10.8 percent in the previous month and the smallest annual gain since February 2013.

Yearly price gains slowed in 18 of the 20 cities. They accelerated in Charlotte, N.C., and were flat in Tampa, Fla.

Existing home sales have picked up, rising to an eight-month high in June. But they are still 2.3 percent below last year's level. And an index of signed contracts dipped in June, suggesting sales will cool.

Home sales have been restrained by weak wage gains and tight credit, particularly for first time buyers.

EARNS-PFIZER

NEW YORK (AP) -- Pfizer's second-quarter earnings plunged 79 percent from last year, when the world's second-largest drugmaker booked a business spinoff gain of more than $10 billion. The latest results still edged analyst expectations.

Pfizer says it earned $2.91 billion in the quarter. That compares with earnings of $14.1 billion last year.

Revenue slipped 2 percent to $12.77 billion, while analysts forecast $12.47 billion, on average.

Pfizer Inc. is best known for creating medicines for the masses, including the erectile dysfunction pill Viagra, the Prevnar vaccine against pneumonia and related infections and the now-generic cholesterol fighter Lipitor, which was once the world's best-selling drug.

EARNS-MERCK

UNDATED (AP) -- A big one-time gain and a tax benefit have helped drugmaker Merck more than double its second-quarter profit, raise the lower end of its profit forecast and easily top analysts' expectations.

The maker of popular Type 2 diabetes pill Januvia and cholesterol medicines Vytorin and Zetia says net income increased to $2 billion from $906 million in the same quarter a year earlier.

The world's fourth-biggest drugmaker reports revenue of $10.93 billion, down 1 percent from $11.01 billion a year ago.

Sales of Merck's prescription drugs totaled $9.09 billion, down 2 percent as cheaper generic competition cut into sales of some older medicines and sales of its hepatitis C drugs was hurt by new brand-name competition.

EARNS-UPS

ATLANTA (AP) -- UPS is lowering its outlook for the year as it announces plans to spend more on technology and other enhancements to improve service during peak season.

UPS says it will spend $175 million on upgrades that include expanded operations on the day after Thanksgiving and sped-up deployment of software designed to help drivers find the quickest route to a destination.

During last year's holiday season, a big increase in online shopping and a crush of last-minute orders by shoppers who jumped on offers of free shipping caught UPS by surprise. The company was forced to hire extra workers to handle the rush, but some gifts still arrived late.

As a result of the boost to spending, UPS has lowered its full-year outlook for adjusted earnings to $4.90 to $5 a share. It previously expected to earn around $5.05 a share.

UPS also says second-quarter profit declined to $454 million from $1.07 billion in the same quarter a year earlier.

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DETROIT (AP) -- Suzuki is recalling nearly 26,000 midsize cars in the U.S. because the daytime running light modules could overheat and cause a fire.

The recall covers the Verona from the 2004-2006 model years. It's an expansion of an earlier recall of the Forenza and Reno.

All the cars were made by General Motors in Korea. Suzuki says in documents filed today with government safety regulators that a transistor in the modules can overheat in the instrument panel. That could melt the module, which could cause a fire. Suzuki says there were no fires reported in Verona models.

Dealers will replace the modules for free. Owners will be notified later.

American Suzuki Motor Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November of 2012 and stopped selling automobiles in the U.S.

CHINA-MICROSOFT

BEIJING (AP) -- China's anti-monopoly agency says it's investigating Microsoft, stepping up regulatory pressure on foreign technology companies.

The State Administration for Industry and Commerce says it opened a case in June after complaints Microsoft improperly failed to publish all documentation for its Windows operating system and Office software. It says investigators visited Microsoft's China headquarters in Beijing and branches in three other cities this week.

Foreign technology suppliers face growing pressure from Chinese regulators, who have launched anti-monopoly investigations and announced plans to examine products for security flaws.

Microsoft has not responded to a request for comment.

SOLDIERS' DEBT

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- Thirteen states have settled an investigation into improper lending with a court agreement that's expected to provide $92 million in debt relief for some 17,800 U.S. military personnel.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says deceptive practices by Rome Finance Co. included failing to accurately disclose charges and interest rates and helping retailers inflate prices, with repayments take from soldiers' paychecks.

Rome Finance has recently done business as Colfax Capital Corp. and Culver Capital LLC.

The states involved are Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee and Vermont.

Authorities say military personnel will keep financed merchandise like computers and gaming systems with debt forgiven, including $2.2 million for more than 550 New York residents.

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