House of horror: Local I-Team confronts Shelby County Contractor who family says botched lead removal at home

Local I-Team

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – A Midtown Memphis family says a Shelby County hired contractor botched a lead-removal project in their home.

In 2017, tests found their children had high lead levels in their blood, so they took part in Shelby County’s lead paint removal program. The family now says their house is in worse shape than before the work began.

There are specific government regulations that must be followed when removing lead paint. Lead paint was common in homes built before 1978. It can cause elevated lead levels in blood. the toxic metal can cause a number of health problems, especially for children.

Tests revealed the Armstrong’s children had elevated lead levels, which is why they took part in the county program. It is a decision they now regret. 

“I should have said ‘no I don’t want your help,’ because they have ruined my house,” says Michael Armstrong.

Michael Armstrong and his wife Rhea are frustrated.

“I wish they could just put it back the way it was, just put it back the way it was,” says Rhea Armstrong.

The Armstrongs signed up for Shelby County’s lead paint removal program, hoping to make their home safer for their children. The county-hired contractor began working on the home two years ago – and to this day, the Armstrongs say the project is not complete.

“Right now, everything is still the way it has been. It hasn’t changed since they left,” says Michael Armstrong.

The Armstrongs say every one of the 12 windows the contractor replaced is the wrong size, and they can’t open any of them. One window was four inches too short, so the contractor had to rig it to fit.

On another window, “When they put it back on, they filled it with concrete and there are big holes on both sides.”

From the outside you can see none of the new windows were ever painted. Michael Armstrong says some things that weren’t supposed to be painted – were. He points to a door. “This was a stained door they painted white for whatever reason.”

During the lead paint removal process, rooms are supposed to be sealed to prevent toxic dust from spreading, but the Armstrongs say the contractor didn’t do that. Cell phone pictures show gaping holes in protective plastic, which allowed dust from the scraped paint to blow throughout the house. Then there’s what was done to protect clothes. Plastic was placed on top of the hanging clothes, leaving most of the items exposed.

“It was such a far cry from the guidelines they were supposed to be following,” says Michael Armstrong.

After an inspection of the site, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation found the contractor violated the Tennessee Lead-Based Paint Certification Act. They ordered her to properly clean the site.

The Armstrongs say the contractor’s attempt to clean dust that had spread inside the house didn’t work. They say it failed not one, but two dust clearance tests.

The county eventually removed the contractor from the job, but at that point, no one wanted to tackle the project. After five unsuccessful bid attempts, the county sent the Armstrongs a letter cancelling the project.

“I just couldn’t believe that they were going to do us like that. Leave us with this mess,” says Rhea Armstrong.

“They canceled the contract and left and haven’t looked back.”

The contractor was Jay-C Construction. The owner, Juanita Cross, didn’t want to talk about the Armstrong’s home.

We went to the address listed on the business filing. Cross wouldn’t comment when the Local I-Team asked her about the Armstrong house,

“That’s between the county and him. Get all the information from the county,” said Juanita Cross, contractor.

Senior Investigator Jeni Diprizio asked, “He basically says the house is in worse shape now than when you went there?”

To which Cross responded, “Like I said I’m not going to say anything.”

When asked if she did a thorough job at the house, Cross responded, “Let the county answer all the questions.”

Shelby County isn’t talking about the Armstrong’s house either. A request for an interview with Mayor Lee Harris or anyone in the administration was denied.

“It’s certainly a tragedy any time you have a situation where somebody who tries to take the benefit of government service and ends up in a worse situation then when they started,” said attorney Kevin Snider.

Snider does not represent the Armstrongs, but says the county should not leave the family high and dry.

“I think the county, if not from a legal standpoint, purely from an equitable standpoint, should step up and help them. They are the ones that got them into this situation,” said Snider.

The Armstrongs say they don’t have the thousands of dollars to pay for the repairs themselves.

They say the good news in all of this – the lead level in their children has come down. But they still have to find a way to get their home fixed.

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