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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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