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Does University Housing have a mold problem?
February 6, 2015
When Elizabeth Gieske first moved to the third floor of the Laurel wing in Kentucky Hall, she discovered a substance resembling mold along the wood in her closet. Although the freshman media informatics major was able to easily wipe it off of her shelf, she said combating mold and moisture has been a constant struggle for her and her floormates.
“It’s constantly changing, which is really annoying,” Gieske said. “You have to turn [the air conditioning] on really cold, and in the summer it was so freezing. We had to do it that cold in order for it to be okay to walk through.”
During the cooler months, Gieske said she must open the window to lessen the humidity in her room. For a period of time she and her roommate also tried leaving their door open to the hallway. Some girls on her floor, including her residential assistant, use dehumidifiers to treat the air in their rooms.
“It’s filled every night [with water],” Gieske said. “They have to empty it out.”
The moisture problem increased to the point where Gieske felt she could no longer let wet towels and clothes air dry in her room because they would never completely dry. She and several of her floormates began hanging their clothes and towels on racks in the hallway shortly after the semester began.
“It’s really difficult to dry things in my room; I don’t dry anything in my room anymore because it just feels gross, it feels nasty,” Gieske said. “You can feel it.”
“The ceiling had greenish brown sparkles
all over it, just covered in mold.”
—SGA senator Rick Seal
Moisture has plagued more residence halls than just Kentucky Hall this past semester. A number of students in Norse, Woodcrest and Commonwealth Halls also say they have experienced changes in humidity, persistent dampness and even mild cases of mold in some residence hall rooms this past semester and the previous summer.
Twenty-five percent of residence hall rooms that underwent an individual air quality test between 2012-1014 tested positive for elevated levels of mold at one time or another according to public records. Most of the tests were conducted during the summer and fall months.
The air quality tests, conducted by Northern Kentucky Home Inspection of Walton, Ky, were analyzed by Pro-Lab in Weston, FL. Mold levels are designated to be elevated when they are higher than control samples and in comparison to other samples in the home inspection company’s database. The tests cost about $25, according to Housing Director Arnie Slaughter, and are conducted when a resident suspects mold or mildew issues.
According to Pro-Lab analysis records, the most common types of mold discovered in the residence halls include Penicillium, Aspergillus and Caldosporium. These spores are often found on wood, wet wallboard, window sills, textiles and food and can cause hay fever, allergies, asthma and hypersensitivity pneumonitis.
SGA senator Rick Seal and former SGA vice president David Trump said they worked hard to clean their Norse Hall room when they moved in as orientation leaders last summer, but still suffered the effects of mold and moisture in their room. Trump said he believes he contracted pneumonia as a result of exposure to mold.
“Basically when we walked in the bathroom and looked up, the ceiling walls were not white,” Seal said. “The ceiling had greenish brown sparkles all over it, just covered in mold. And also the tiles in the actual shower were pretty horrific as well.”
Seal said he and another roommate worked hard to remove the mold.
“We actually went out and bought loads of bleach, got on our hands and knees and scrubbed it and we got most of the mold off ourselves,” Seal said. “But David Trump, he said he actually became ill and got flu-like symptoms.”
Trump said he requested to move when he came down with what he believed was pneumonia or a severe virus caused by the mold in the bathroom. Trump, Seal and another student living in the room were soon moved to another room in Norse Hall, which is standard protocol if mold is suspected by a student, according to Slaughter. Additionally, an individual air quality test is conducted to be sure the air does not contain any hazardous particles.
“Anytime there is suspected activity, we do something called an IAQ which is an individual air quality test and that allows us to identify if it’s just a high pollen count or allergens in the air, which may cause issues,” Slaughter said. “We do our part by getting to the student, addressing the issue… and then proceeding accordingly.”
However, Seal said they were never told if the issue had been fixed or its cause.
“They said what they were doing when they moved us out was they wanted to conduct a test for mold, so they were going to have specialists come in and test the air quality and they said they would get back to us on how it went to see if we could move back in or not,” Seal said.
He said he was never notified if they could move back into their original room.
“I don’t know if they got the problem taken care of or not,” Seal said. “Whoever did the room check before we moved in obviously didn’t see it, they missed it.”
Seal said he believes the residence hall is well known among students for having moisture problems.
“Norse is like notorious for having mold in the bathrooms,” Seal said.
Norse Hall Hall Director Tyler Groll said the air quality test never took place and that the original room was thoroughly inspected before Trump and Seal moved in.
“Any rooms that were not cleaned well throughout the year, we clean those over the summer, very diligently… our housing staff goes through before we have summer school,” Groll said.
He said no mold issues were found.
“We didn’t have to do the test in that [original room], there wasn’t anything growing in that room. It could probably use some cleaning, but there wasn’t any moisture problems; we didn’t have to put any dehumidifiers in the room,” Groll said. “[Trump] felt he had an issue and he requested to move, so we allowed him to move. There was not a problem… people find reasons to move if they want to move and we allowed that person to move.”
Slaughter said the air quality test was not conducted because Seal and Trump had disturbed the environment of their room by their cleaning efforts.
“It’s important when they do the IAQ test that it’s an undisturbed sample from the environment so that they can get a true, accurate reading,” Slaughter said. “They tried to clean the actual space they identified that they thought they had mold, so with that, disturbed the type of environment…the counts could have been off potentially and the test was not run at that particular time.”
Slaughter said the room was cleaned and sanitized and that no reports of mold occurred before or after the incident.
Groll confirmed that other students currently live in the room Trump and Seal reported had mold last summer.
“That room was given no special attention after [they] moved out,” he said. “Other individuals continued to live in that room and they were fine.”
Trump said the location of the ventilation in the bathroom was the cause of the moisture, mildew and mold rather than a lack of cleaning.
“The new room had a vent above the door and the old one did not,” Trump said. “The steam was able to escape and go outside, but the old room did not have a vent above the door. So the addition of the vent I think helped a lot.”
Groll said leaving the air conditioning or heat running at all times, always turning on the fan when taking a shower, and frequently cleaning the bathroom will solve all moisture problems.
“I don’t think there’s a problem with the ventilation, it’s just not always placed in the best areas,” he said.
“It’ll come off, but it will not come all the way off.
You can scrub and scrub and scrub and still see
those little black spots.”
—Sophomore Michaela Brooks
Michaela Brooks had a similar experience to Trump and Seal over the past semester. The sophomore middle education major said that although she loves the apartment-style living of Norse Hall and wouldn’t want to move anywhere else, moisture has also been a constant issue in her room.
Brooks said she and her roommates run their fan each time they shower and leave the door slightly ajar. However, their fire alarm sometimes sounds because of the heat and steam.
“It won’t go off, but it’ll make a beeping noise,” Brooks said. “One of our biggest problems is not being able to open the door all the way, or if we do open the door all the way, it provides a barrier to the shower… so it’s like all that moisture is staying in the shower.”
Brooks said she and her roommates clean their bathroom on a regular basis with bleach, a practice that Norse Hall Hall Director Tyler Groll recommends. She said they have had a difficult time removing all of the mold in their shower, even after housing staff attempted to deep clean their bathroom in the middle of the semester.
“It’ll come off, but it will not come all the way off,” Brooks said. “You can scrub and scrub and scrub and still see those little black spots.”
Groll believes the appearance of mold and mildew is entirely based on the care students take to clean their space.
“I don’t think there’s a moisture problem, I think it’s a cleaning problem. People report that ‘My bathroom’s gross.’ Well, you should clean it,” Groll said. “If there’s anyone that says, ‘I’m cleaning it and I’m still having trouble with it,’ then we send in facility staff and see if there’s anything that was a problem.”
“I’ve never felt moisture on walls until I came to
Commonwealth. It’s bad. My friend bought a poster
and he couldn’t even put it up, it kept falling down.”
—Freshman Troy Cornes
Freshman Troy Cornes said facility staff and a residential assistant told him the best way to deal with the moisture in their Commonwealth Hall room was to buy air fresheners, a fan or purchase special sheets that would absorb moisture on shelving.
“If we don’t have Febreeze or we don’t have a fan going, it just smells mildewy and not a good smell anyone would want,” the English secondary education major said. “I think I’ve gotten used to it now, just because I’ve been around it so long, but whenever I go home and then come back, it hits me again.”
Cornes said he and his roommate cannot hang posters on the walls despite buying a fan and air fresheners to alleviate moisture.
“I’ve never felt moisture on walls until I came to Commonwealth. It’s bad,” Cornes said. “My friend bought a poster and he couldn’t even put it up, it kept falling down.”
Cornes said moisture has also caused food in his room to quickly become stale.
“This box of Cheez-its that we had, I remember buying it on a Monday. Tuesday morning I was getting ready to get some Cheez-its and I reached for the box and its all damp. I reached in and I’m like, ‘Oh it’s fine, it’s just the box,’ then reached in and everything’s stale. We hadn’t opened it yet,” Cornes said. “My roommate was going to get Lucky Charms one time and it was stale, just stale.”
Cornes’ residential assistant said the moisture in the room is worse than in other rooms on the floor. Cornes said he remains puzzled as to why the problem persists.
“We thought maybe it could have been from something that somebody had on the floor above us that maybe leaked or at one point we thought it was water, like maybe there was a leak somewhere,” he said. “But other than that all we could think of was maybe the weather.”
Slaughter said he believes the drastic drops and increases in temperature over the past semester have contributed to a few more complaints about moisture than usual.
“I think it’s been a little bit more this year, just based on the wonderful weather we’ve experienced,” Slaughter said. “So in that capacity, we have seen an increase in the number of residents who have reported that rooms may be a little bit more humid or a little bit more cool… it’s dependent on outside temperature factors that may impact the inside.”
Slaughter said a significant case of mold has not been confirmed this year and that the amount of moisture in a room also hinges on student cleaning and preventative efforts. Regular cleaning of the bathroom, leaving the exhaust fan on when showering, opening the door while showering and not leaving wet clothing or towels lying in the room are practices he said the housing office endorses.
Brooks said sometimes even the best of efforts can’t fix a problem that’s deeper than cleaning and changes in weather.
“We do clean. Nothing ever just stays,” she said. “I wouldn’t be embarrassed if someone came over to our house and used our bathroom… we’re not dirty at all.”