Only four days into her freshman year, Oona Nash (COL ’22) contracted bronchitis.
When she went to the Student Health Center, the doctors gave her antibiotics. Nash expected to get better, but her illness got significantly worse over time. She discovered in October the culprit of her ailment: black mold.
“One day, my roommate and I were disinfecting our room, and I wiped over the radiator, and the wipe was covered in black mold,” Nash said in an interview with The Hoya.
As Nash, who lives in freshman residence hall New South, got sicker and spent more time in her bed, the mold worsened her condition.
“I had a deep chest cough and my bronchial tubes were congested, and my sinuses were clogged. I was constantly exhausted, and I got hives occasionally,” Nash said. “I went to the emergency room twice. The doctors told me that my illness was being caused by black mold spores.”
Black mold, or Stachybotrys chartarum, can cause upper respiratory issues, wheezing, congestion, red and itchy eyes and skin, fever, and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Nash is not the only student to fall ill from mold. Emily Coster (COL ’22), who lives in Village C West, has also suffered from the black mold in her radiator.
“I have been sick since the day I arrived on campus. I’m extremely congested, I get lightheaded, I get fatigued, I get headaches whenever I’m in my room for an extended period of time,” Coster said in an interview with The Hoya. “My roommate has also exhibited these symptoms.”
Coster’s symptoms eventually got so bad that she was forced to evacuate her room not once, but twice.
“I went to the emergency room, and they couldn’t figure out what the problem was. I had suspected that it had something to do with the mold,” Coster said. “My lungs were inflamed. As a result, my mom booked a hotel room for me, and I stayed there for three nights. I felt much better when I was in the hotel without the mold-related symptoms.”
Along with requiring some to evacuate, mold-related illness has interrupted students’ lives in other ways. Nash’s illness affected her academics and social life.
“I had to miss too much class because I was so sick, so I had to drop two of my classes. I couldn’t focus, and I was coughing. I had to drop out of chemistry, which is a problem, since I’m pre-med,” Nash said. “I’m now a partial student, because I had to drop so many credits. I almost had to take medical leave. I was sick for 2½ months; I just got better two weeks ago. I’m a runner, but I can’t run now. I couldn’t join any clubs or go out.”
Student facilities requests from August to October more than doubled this year, rising to 361 requests from 147 in 2017.
Black mold is more common in humid areas like Washington, D.C., according to the CDC.
“When mold spores drop on places where there is excessive moisture, such as where leakage may have occurred in roofs, pipes, walls, plant pots, or where there has been flooding, they will grow,” according to the CDC website.
Unusually high rates of rain this year exacerbated mold issues on campus, according to a university spokesperson.
“By Aug. 22, before New Student Orientation, 2018 was already the sixth wettest year on record in more than 100 years. Then, by Sept. 23, it became the third wettest year on record for Washington,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “As of Monday, a 141 year record for rain in the month of November was broken and DC was within an inch of being the wettest year ever on record.”
At 17.98 inches, the D.C. area received just over 10 more inches of rainfall between August and October 2018 than in the same time period last year, which received 7.39 inches, according to a university spokesperson.
Because of the increase in rainfall, the Office of Planning and Facilities Management has received an influx of work orders requesting mold removal. The heightened rainfall and humidity contributed to a high volume of work orders, Interim Vice President for Planning and Facilities Management Gregory Simmons said.
“Our facilities office reviews all requests relating to mold and directs safety managers to conduct mold assessments within two business days,” Simmons wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The on-site assessment includes a visual inspection for the presence of mold, and also includes the monitoring of space temperature and relative humidity to ensure that those building conditions are not contributing to mold formation. Finally, the space is reviewed to determine if moisture has entered the space, and related repairs are scheduled as necessary.”
If mold is detected, cleanup typically occurs the same day, and dehumidifiers are installed if necessary, Simmons said.
Students have been frustrated with facilities’ handling of mold-related complaints. Coster is disappointed with facilities and feels the administration does not prioritize students’ health.
“I think facilities is handling the mold poorly,” Coster said. “My neighbors are sick because they also have black mold in their radiator, and they put in seven work orders. Facilities never came. We had black mold in our showers, and they painted over the mold. We can still see it. We have mold in our carpet, too. Facilities brings dehumidifiers in for a day or two, but then they take them away and the mold comes back.”
The health and well-being of students is facilities’ top priority, Simmons said, encouraging students to seek help if they think their health is being affected by the presence of mold.
“If students believe mold is impacting any part of their health, we encourage them to contact Student Health Services for information about using the array of health services available to all students,” Simmons wrote. “Any student with a medical condition can work with the Academic Resource Center to request medical housing. Students who have a documented need will be assigned housing that meets their need.”