$12 fix to help curb respiratory illnesses

by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:

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ATLANTA —

A Channel 2 Action News Investigation found cheap air filters in metro Atlanta apartments have contributed to illnesses that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh discovered that a $12 fix exists but no one requires it.

Cheap air filters are not enough to stop airborne allergens, like mold. Air quality experts told Channel 2 that people are getting sick, going to the emergency room and taxpayers are on the hook.

"It was in cabinets here, growing down here, on a pot holder," Sheniquia Waller said the mold in her apartment was so out of control, it was growing on her family's clothing.

Her landlord remediated her unit, but problems still lingered.

When Kavanaugh asked her what she thinks some of the new growth is, Waller replied, "I still think that's mold."

"I have two asthmatic kids, my 12-year-old is severe asthmatic and my baby girl, which is 6, she was diagnosed in February with asthma," said Waller.

"What we breathe matters," Richard Johnson of Air Allergen & Mold Testing, Inc. told Kavanaugh.

Johnson told Kavanaugh that it is serious problem and that poor indoor air quality does not just exacerbate health conditions, it creates them. No matter where you live, it is costing you money.

"Taxpayers are subsidizing the healthcare for a number of people for asthma and similar respiratory diseases," said Johnson.

According to the Fulton County Asthma Association, taxpayers in Fulton County alone are spending $23 million a year. They are subsidizing emergency room treatments and hospitalizations for people with respiratory illnesses.

We hired Johnson's team at Air Allergen and Mold Testing, Inc. to test Waller's apartment.

Kavanaugh showed them the filter in Waller's apartment.

"When you see this filter and this dust, what does this combination say to you?” asked Kavanaugh.

"It's a red flag," replied William, the technician from Air Allergen and Mold.

The red flag he was referring to is a cheap air filter. Air filters that are thin, porous and practically see-through cannot stop mold spores. Experts recommend a thicker, tightly woven filter that is designed to trap mold spores and other airborne allergens and smoke. Often costing around $10 more than the cheaper version. Channel 2 Action News purchased one higher quality filter for $12.

"We have regulations that say you have to have a lighted parking lots, or you have to have your sidewalks clear, why not safe air," said Johnson.

Kavanaugh spoke with State Sen. Vincent Fort who told her that the issue is of such public concern he is considering regulation.

"If you can save several thousand dollars in costs in test and mitigation, versus the cost of a filter, it seems to me to be a smart thing to do," said Fort.

"This is something we really need to do and we need to do it now," said Johnson.

Waller agreed, "I have children that have asthma, this is not fair to them. Something needs to be done," she told Kavanaugh.

The problem doesn't just cost taxpayers; respiratory illness keeps kids out of school and people home from work. Air quality experts estimated that requiring a better filter in an HVAC system could reduce taxpayer expenses by 60 percent.

The filter is just one of the factors that contributes to air quality. Housekeeping, the HVAC system and dehumidification all help. Johnson said that education can go a long way. Many people are completely unaware that the quality of the filters vary this much.