By Erica Quinones
Students continue struggling with health problems at Washington College due to mold in residential halls.
Mold on college campuses is not a new topic. It was covered by The New York Times in August, The Baltimore Sun reported on University of Maryland College Park students being moved to hotels for mold remediation in 2018, and the Instagram page @georgetown.hotmess consists of dilapidated dorms, flooding floors, and mold spores at Georgetown University. Mold-related health and safety concerns are no different at WC.
Remediating mold can be like “a game of whack-a-mole,” according to Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. Sarah Feyerherm.
Mold can grow on any surface where there is moisture, according to Assistant Vice President for Facilities Vic Costa. But he said that in dorms, it is “usually caused by keeping the room too cold and then allowing warm, moist air into the cool environment.”
For buildings like Minta Martin, which Costa said was the most problematic building over the past two summers, air conditioners running on their coldest setting contributed to this.
Other factors like insufficient ventilation and water leaks facilitate mold growth.
The molds native to the Chestertown area, and found most frequently in WC dorm rooms, are Aspergillus, Penicillium, Cladosporium, and Basidiospores. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these molds can irritate the nose, throat, eyes, and cause skin rashes. They can be more dangerous for people with compromised immune systems or mold allergies.
“Mold will always be present,” Costa said. “It is part of our ecosystem.”
As a result, Buildings and Grounds wants to educate residents on how to reduce mold issues.
Costa suggests that students keep room temperatures close to 72 degrees Fahrenheit, clean rooms, not lay wet clothes on furniture to dry, and not open windows when the air conditioner units are operating.
Buildings and Grounds also increased preventative maintenance schedules for residential heating and cooling units. The frequency of the checks depends on the type of unit, but they will clean air conditioning units, change filters, and check general operations, according to Costa.
Other preventative measures include the upcoming renovations to buildings like Minta Martin. While they do not want to only focus on dorms in bad condition, according to Dean Feyerherm, they will prioritize renovating outdated heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
Antiquated HVAC systems are less efficient at preventing mold growth. Meanwhile, window air conditioning units present challenges like individual filters that must be changed, condensation on the outside, and being more susceptible to the environment, according to Dean Feyerherm.
In those future renovations, Costa said that “moisture mitigation and temperature control are a part of every project’s design.”
Compared to past years, Dean Feyerherm said that she does not see a major difference in mold presence on campus. Rather, she thinks there is greater student awareness about mold-related health concerns.
“The more we know and learn about [mold], I think we are better situated to prioritize it than we have been in the past,” Dean Feyerherm said. “I think we have always cared about it and worried about it. But there is a bigger sense of urgency from all our constituents because of health issues.”