'Contaminated air': Retiree scared of living in her own home
TWELVE years ago, Susan Fry signed the lease to her new Palmview Village house, believing it would be the home she would spend her final peaceful days in.
"This was going to be my dream home. I was very happy to live here and then, at some point, I was going to very politely die," Ms Fry said.
But six years ago, she said, her North Mackay dream home turned into a "nightmare".
Since then, anything in her home made of metal has rusted, mould has sprouted on her furniture and she said rubber objects "dissolved" after being exposed to the air in the house.
Ms Fry believes the air in her home is contaminated - and it is making her ill.
She also believes the contamination stems from the February 2008 flood, during which her home, along with many other Palmview houses, was significantly flooded.
In June 2008 Ms Fry signed a certificate of satisfaction with Palmview after repair work was completed in her home.
But five years later, in 2013, she began noticing tiny salty droplets of water on her mirrors and windows.
This was the first sign of what Ms Fry believes is a concerning level of moisture in her home.
Since 2013, she has collected reports and statements from more than a dozen companies, and taken air and mould samples from her home. All have concluded that Ms Fry's home has a mould or high moisture problem.
Mould testing service Biological Health Services found "extremely high" mould deposits in the house. BHS director and microbiologist Dr Cameron Jones said "all three (moulds detected) produce mycotoxins that are considered harmful to humans and/or are known carcinogens".
Dr Jones said the fungi were known to cause infections and induce asthma.
In 2017 an ear nose and throat specialist said Ms Fry displayed symptoms consistent with an inflammatory nasal disease.
Former Mackay Master Builders Association manager Paul Ingledew first investigated Ms Fry's home three years ago and found "widespread" readings of high moisture.
After 40 years in the industry, Mr Ingledew said, "when you see anomalies like that... you know there's a problem."
Mackay-based health and hygiene consulting service Field Engineers' principal advisor David Corbett said samples collected in 2016 had found more than 940 mould colony-forming units per cubic square metre in Ms Fry's home.
"That mould is above what would be considered an acceptable level - and it's been repeatedly measured at that level," Mr Corbett said
He said pinpointing the source of the mould, which may be inside the walls, would be difficult.
"A lot of it could be on the internal sides of the wall. It would involve ripping apart the house or basically tearing off the walls... really get a good look at what's going on there."
He said finding the cause of the moisture would involve invasive and expensive destructive testing, something Ms Fry, as a tenant of Palmview, cannot do herself.
Last year, Ms Fry approached Palmview asking for permission to start investigative testing on the slab, taking core samples and investigating the footings.
It was a request that Palmview denied.
Palmview village manager Sue Nipperess said Palmview's main concern was the liability issues if something "goes pear shaped" during the testing.
"She's on a 99-year lease so if she damages the house we don't know who is liable," she said.
Ms Nipperess said testing by Mackay Carpet Care in 2013 and Drizair in 2018, both commissioned by Palmview, had suggested the problems were due to Ms Fry not cleaning or ventilating her home in the tropical climate.
Ms Nipperess said the mould was "the problem we have in North Queensland".
Ms Fry said she was taken aback by the response. Having lived in Mackay her entire life, including in a Queenslander in West Mackay for 30 years, she said, "I've never had a mould (problem) - that's why it's been such a shock".
Ms Fry maintains lack of cleanliness and not using the air-conditioning is not the cause of her problem.
"All I've done since I moved here is clean," she said.
Mr Corbett said the mould readings in Ms Fry's home were not due to the climate, and were also not consistent with a badly ventilated home.
"The mould we observed there was everywhere," he said.
Mr Corbett said it was common for property owners to put the blame for mould on occupant behaviour.
Six years after first raising the issues in her home with Palmview, Ms Fry said she felt she had been "fobbed off" by management.
"Almost half my life in Palmview Village has been trying to solve this problem for myself and it has been one slow, stressful, costly process," she said.
A former chairperson of the Palmview residents committee, who did not wish to be named, said there was a pattern of dismissing resident's complaints by management.
He said about half the residents had experienced tension with management, with many feeling their concerns had been dismissed.
Ms Nipperess denied this and said Palmview was a "happy village".
She said Palmview had been working with Ms Fry since she first brought up the issues in 2013, and had been following their requirements in the Retirement Villages Act.
"We've been abiding from the first point of contact," Ms Nipperess said.
Association of Residents of Queensland Retirement Villages vice-president Mike Fairbairn agreed Palmview was acting within the law, but added the problem in Ms Fry's home existed in a legal grey area within the Retirement Villages Act.
"Both you (Palmview) and Susan have a problem here which ... is not covered by the legislation under which she, we, and you operate," he wrote in a letter to Palmview.
Until action is taken, Ms Fry said she would continue to worry about what her home was doing to her health.
"I'm living in a house that is making me sick ," she said.
Ms Fry said she was unable to cancel her lease with Palmview because she has nowhere else to live and not enough money for a new home.