A dialysis center on West Shirley Avenue in Warrenton is facing legal action from its landlord and a neighboring tenant over an alleged toxic mold problem which they say poses a health risk to patients and building staff. But two separate surveys came to different conclusions about the severity of the mold problem.
The building’s owner, Carriage Lane Complex LLC, and a neighboring tenant in the building, Warrenton Oxygen Wellness, are suing Warrenton Dialysis for what they claim is significant mold growth – including black mold – caused by water leaks in the dialysis center. And both companies are asking the Fauquier County Circuit Court to issue an emergency injunction that will allow the owner to enter the establishment and repair the damage.
“Everyone who enters the building is immunocompromised,” Ralph Crafts, owner of Warrenton Oxygen Wellness, told the Fauquier Times. “It’s a ticking time bomb.”
Crafts said the mold issue has caused many setbacks at Warrenton Oxygen Wellness. He said the company had spent nearly $2 million setting up its office but could only operate at “limited capacity” until the mold problem was resolved.
Warrenton Oxygen Wellness specializes in ‘Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy’ – a treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment to treat illnesses and injuries such as burns, traumatic brain injury and serious infections. It is also being studied for its effectiveness in the long-term treatment of COVID-19.
Crafts said that because the company gets its oxygen from the air inside the building, mold in the air could potentially put immunocompromised patients at risk.
“It really set us back, and we can’t take any chances,” Crafts said.
Mold was discovered in the building last May after Warrenton Oxygen Wellness moved into the office next door to Warrenton Dialysis, according to the lawsuit. A construction worker discovered a water leak in Warrenton Oxygen Wellness from Warrenton Dialysis; which led to the discovery of significant mold growth between the walls that separate the two businesses.
Lawyers for Carriage Lane wrote that it was “quickly determined” that the back room of the dialysis center, which shares a wall with Warrenton Oxygen Wellness, was the source of the mold growth. They said they found “persistent water issues that have not been addressed and pose a risk of building damage and risk of mold growth.”
The two companies hired Gainesville-based environmental firm Madison Taylor to conduct two separate mold inspections, in June and August 2021. Both reports found “elevated levels of airborne mold classified as potentially toxigenic in the building and recommended “immediate removal”.
Around the same time, Warrenton Dialysis commissioned its own mold inspection report from environmental firm T&M Associates which rejected Madison Taylor’s findings, according to court documents. The report confirmed the existence of mold in the office – but found that ‘the levels do not pose a health risk’.
Fresenius Kidney Care, the parent company of Warrenton Dialysis, declined to comment on the lawsuit. A Warrenton Dialysis staff member told the Fauquier Times in a phone call that no one in the office would comment on the matter.
The Carriage Lane lawsuit claims that Warrenton Dialysis ‘falsely claimed there was no mold on the premises’ and took no action to fix the problem. They further claim that Warrenton Dialysis staff barred the owner from entering the facility despite repeated requests to be allowed to fix the problem himself.
Depending on the building lease agreement, Warrenton Dialysis may refuse to allow the landlord onto the premises. Fred Kruck, Carriage Lane’s solicitor, said the lease was “not typical”, but also “not unheard of”.
“Although [Warrenton Dialysis] has known about the mold for months, it has failed to act – but it also refuses to allow Carriage Lane access to remediate the mold and decontaminate the rented space, despite the continued exposure of its employees and patients “, Kruck said in the lawsuit.
Carriage Lane lawsuit asks Warrenton Dialysis to pay over $1 million in damages; he is also asking the court to evict the company from the building. But Kruck told the Fauquier Times that the two companies were “actively looking for ways to solve the problem” without forcing the dialysis clinic out of the building.
“We would like to find common ground with the tenant,” Kruck said.
City of Warrenton building inspectors are aware of the problem. The city received both mold inspection reports last summer, according to Warrenton Community Development Manager Rob Walton.
The city initially considered declaring the building “‘unfit’ for occupancy” after receiving the first complaint, Walton said. But he said officials decided that was unnecessary after Warrenton Dialysis provided them with its own mold inspection report “indicating the issue was not a hazard”.
“This action was never taken or necessary as we spoke to the nearby business, and they provided a report that the issue was not a hazard,” Walton said. “It gave us two conflicting reports; however, both reports mentioned the existence of mold.
Walton said the city is instead demanding “corrective action” from Warrenton Dialysis, but the work has not been completed.
“Work has been halted due to ongoing litigation,” Walton said. “…We have requested status updates, but we continue to receive the same response regarding litigation. In short, the city asked them to remove the mold and a permit was issued to complete the work. They are still doing repairs but have stalled due to ongoing litigation.
A court hearing for the temporary injunction is scheduled for May 3. If a judge sides with Carriage Lane and Warrenton Oxygen Wellness, the owner will be allowed into Warrenton Dialysis to resolve the issue before a decision on the trial.