Customer Claims Govt. Worker Mistake Made Her Sick - WSMV News 4

Customer Claims Govt. Worker Mistake Made Her Sick

Updated: May 13, 2011

All Lori Bobo has these days is her guitar and a car packed full of clothes.



She's couch surfing after, she said, a government program ruined her home and damaged her health.


"It almost killed me," Bobo said. "I can't even go back in my house. It's contaminated."


Bobo signed up for the weatherization program through the Metro Development and Housing Agency in October 2009 to try to save on energy costs. The weatherization program uses tax money to improve the homes of mostly low-income residents by introducing energy-saving improvements like adding insulation and replacing leaking windows.


But just a few weeks after a contractor finished the work at Bobo's house, she started feeling ill.


"It started with the left side of my chest just hurting. I started noticing I was really tired and fatigued," Bobo said.


"Have you ever had health problems at all?" asked I-Team chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.


"No," Bobo said.


Bobo said she got so sick, she ended up going to an emergency room, and her medical records show she exhibited skin rashes and throat pain.


Concerned she had mold, Bobo brought in a contractor to remove drywall throughout her house. The contractor found no mold, but he did make a discovery.


"He also came to me and said, 'I think you have insulation in your HVAC, your duct work,'" Bobo recalled.


Bob then brought in an environmental expert, who tested the dust that was suddenly throughout her house. That expert found thin fibers of her cellulose insulation in her HVAC return, on her fireplace mantel and on the floors of her upstairs storage room.


"I knew something was wrong, and I knew something was making me sick, and I knew something just wasn't right," Bobo said.


Bobo said she got so sick, she had no choice but to move out of her house of 17 years.


The contractor, assigned to Bobo's house from the Metro Development and Housing Agency, blew cellulose insulation on top of her existing insulation in her attic.


Next to Bobo's attic is an unfinished storage closet, and the two are connected by a large hole: a hole that was never sealed by the contractor.


The insulation was cellulose, which is small bits of recycled paper that was never intended to be anywhere but in the attic. The insulation was falling through the hole, and each time Bobo entered the closet, it blew into her home.


The contractor never told Bobo what kind of insulation he was using and that it may not be contained fully because of the opening.


Bobo believes the dust from the insulation that's now all over the house caused her health problems, and the contractor should have sealed up the hole.


"I'm extremely mad. I'm extremely upset," Bobo said.


Bobo now joins others who have complained about the work performed during the weatherization program, overseen by MDHA in Davidson County.


The state Department of Human Services operates the program in other Middle Tennessee counties. A recent state audit shows complaints about the weatherization program across the state.


According to MDHA, auditors found about 20 percent of all the jobs contractors completed had mistakes that contractors then had to go back and fix.


Mike Rogers used to do work for a weatherization contractor for jobs in and around Davidson County, but not Bobo's house. He kept the paperwork from some of his jobs. He said he was never trained how to do the weatherization work, including how to blow the cellulose insulation or what to tell homeowners about it.


"I watched a YouTube video for about 120 minutes about how to install insulation.That was my training," Rogers said.


Rogers said he never did the work for some jobs, including blowing insulation in the walls of a trailer, because he didn't know how to do it properly.


"I did fib and say we did it, to see if we could get by with it," Rogers said.


"So does this house have insulation in the walls?" Finley asked.


"No," Rogers said.


Rogers said his work was inspected by a state auditor, and his work passed inspections.


"As far as the insulation in the walls, they passed everything," Rogers said.


Rogers said he felt so bad about what he did, he decided to contact the I-Team.


"My conscience was eating me up," Rogers said.


Bobo was so upset with her contractor, she filed a grievance with MHDA. In an emotional hearing where she frequently broke down in tears, Bobo blamed the contractor hired by MHDA for forcing her out of her home.


"I left my house sick and homeless. I slept in my car," Bobo said.


Because Bobo is now considering suing MDHA, the agency would not comment on camera. But in the grievance panel decision, the agency stated that the contractor could have told Bobo what kind of insulation he was using. But it stated the contractor didn't do anything improper, even if he didn't close up the hole.


"We couldn't see anything that was done, that was done incorrectly," said Joe Cain, director of development for MDHA, during the hearing.


As for Rogers' claim about botched jobs, MHDA sent the I-Team a statement: "All contractors (not necessarily employees) must complete Department of Human Services' training or continuing education. Certainly, if more training is needed, we are happy to alert DHS and request additional training for any of our contractors or auditors. ... To date, less than 1 percent of homeowners who received weatherization assistance have had complaints about the work the contractor performed on their homes."


Among that small percentage who complained is Bobo, who said when mistakes are made, they have anything but small effects.


"I just wanna go back home," Bobo said.


The manufacturer of the insulation told Bobo they will replace the insulation and MHDA offered to clean up Bobo's home, but Bobo has not decided yet whether to take that offer or sue.


It is unclear if the botched jobs Rogers spoke of have been found by auditors.


MHDA records show the company Rogers worked for had completed 81 projects in Davidson County, and in eight of those projects, auditors found mistakes were made.


But Rogers said auditors approved his botched jobs, and he doesn't recall the addresses because he did so many houses.

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