Georgetown University students are reporting illness and repeated delays in response by the Office of Planning and Facilities Management to requests for mold removal.
In the period from August through October of the fall 2018 semester, the Office of Planning and Facilities Management responded to 361 work requests relating to mold, according to Interim Vice President of Planning and Facilities Management Greg Simmons. For the same period last year, the office addressed 147 requests.
Recent weather conditions have exacerbated the prevalence of mold in dormitories, as the District has recorded historic amounts of rainfall this fall, Simmons said. September saw a significant increase in precipitation, up to 9.73 inches this year from just 1.43 inches last September.
Village C, Darnall Hall and Village A have had the most requests so far this semester. The Office of Residential Living and the Office of Planning and Facilities Management are collaborating to resolve student mold concerns and to try to expedite remediation efforts, according to Simmons.
“Senior management from 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.
Exposure to mold can pose various health risks, especially to those who are sensitive to the issue. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, “molds can cause nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation, or, in some cases, skin irritation.”
Sarah Mendelsohn (COL ’21) and her roommate, Deepika Jonnalagadda (SFS ’21) noticed mold in their closets and drawers and on their clothing in their LXR Hall dorm room Sept. 28. (Full disclosure: Mendelsohn and Jonnalagadda are news desk editors at The Hoya). The two immediately called facilities so the issue could be addressed.
Facilities sent someone Sept. 30, two days later, to look at the mold and informed the two that a health inspector would need to examine the room. After Mendelsohn called facilities six times in the following two days with no response, her mother called to report the issue. An inspector came Oct. 3.
If a facilities visual inspection uncovers mold, cleanup occurs the same day: Professionals disinfect the room and complete High-Efficiency Particulate Air vacuuming to get rid of the mold spores, Simmons said.
Professionally recommended mold treatment varies depending on the severity of the mold present, and can range from simply disinfecting and using HEPA vacuums to removing deeply infested surfaces like drywall and carpeting, according to Servpro, a mold removal company.
However, cleanup did not occur until Oct. 3, three days after the initial inspection by facilities, Mendelsohn said.
Mold removal and cleanup usually takes anywhere from three to five days, although this can vary depending on the severity of the problem, according to Andrew Ross, founder and CEO of Triangle Legacy Flood Restoration & Carpet Cleaning, a company serving the greater D.C. area that specializes in mold remediation and removal.
“The cleanup time depends on how large the area is, but of course you have to use a HEPA vacuum to vacuum all the dust and the debris, and the HEPA vacuum collects 99.9 percent of any mold spores or any particles,” Ross said in an interview with The Hoya.
Facilities employees installed a dehumidifier to combat the mold and fixed the air conditioning unit on Wednesday, and PBI Restoration, a mold removal company was hired to clean the room, which had mold visible on the desks, chairs, closets and the students’ clothes.
“They shampooed the carpets, washed down all the surfaces, and they took most of our clothes to have them dry-cleaned,” Mendelsohn said in an interview with The Hoya.
On the day of the initial cleanup, facilities informed the two that the room was no longer safe for habitation and they would need to locate other housing arrangements themselves.
The health inspector returned Oct. 4 to see if the issue had been fixed, and discovered that there was still mold in the room. The following day, the cleanup crew returned to remove the remaining mold.
Residential Living usually facilitates temporary housing arrangements when mold cleanup is underway, according to Simmons, but Mendelsohn and Jonnalagadda were not offered alternative housing, and instead had to stay with a friend during the mold removal process. Mendelsohn and Jonnalagadda were not informed their room was safe to return to until midday Oct. 8.
Mendelsohn felt that there was a lack of communication between the departments responsible for handling the issue, which made the process more frustrating and time-consuming.
“Facilities didn’t do a very good job at responding efficiently and quickly to the problem, given that we had to call them so many times, and that my mother had to get involved,” Mendelsohn said.
Mendelsohn also suspects that mold was not completely removed from the room due to continued odors and mold-related health symptoms. Mendelsohn received a diagnosis Thursday of cough variant asthma, a type of asthma exacerbated by mold, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Mendelsohn said her doctor told her that the mold likely exacerbated the symptoms she was already experiencing from pneumonia. Additionally, Mendelsohn and her roommate both were coughing and felt chest pain after being in the room for a few hours.
Despite her requests to be moved, residential living has said they have no additional housing Mendelson and her roommate can be relocated to, Mendelson said.
The increase in mold reports at Georgetown comes as University of Maryland at College Park also grapples with significant mold, moving hundreds of students from their dorm due to safety concerns, according to The Washington Post. UMD also attributed a rise in a recent rise in reports of mold to increased humidity and rainfall in the past month.
These complaints also come after Aleta Mack, former executive assistant to Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber, sued the university in 2015 for failing to accommodate her appropriately when dealing with mold related illnesses in 2014 amid concerns the university had not appropriately removed drywall infected with mold. However, a judge ruled in favor of the university in August 2017, and an appeal was denied in July 2018.
After discovering mold on a wall in their Alumni Square apartment, Emma Ladouceur (MSB ’21) and her roommates submitted multiple work orders and called emergency services, but no one responded to their concerns. After a week, Ladouceur’s father contacted facilities himself, and facilities responded and sent someone the following day, Ladouceur said.
“Once my parents got involved, [Facilities] were helpful, and I just think that they need to be more responsive to student requests for help, and not let the problems go on this long,” Ladouceur said in an interview with The Hoya. “And I know that other people have not gotten responses because their parents haven’t called.”
Facilities removed the wall with mold; however, about a month after the mold was removed, the wall has not been replaced, Ladouceur said.
Maddie Rivers (SFS ’21) also experienced issues with mold when she and her roommates found mold on a wall of their Alumni Square apartment. They were surprised because their newly renovated apartment is supposedly one of the best spots to live on campus.
“It’s so surprising that at an institution like Georgetown, some of the supposedly nicest places to live have pretty dangerous living conditions,” Rivers said.
A roommate’s parents got involved because they were worried about health risks, Rivers said. Facilities eventually removed part of the wall with the mold and installed a dehumidifier. Rivers said that the root of the problem was never explained, and she and her roommates are unsure if the mold is completely gone.
Though the panel with the mold was removed, her wall, like Ladouceur’s, still has not been fully repaired and a large hole remains to be addressed by facilities, Rivers said.
Malachy McLaughlin (SFS ’22) and his roommate similarly experienced issues with mold this semester. They were relocated to Kennedy Hall after they discovered mold on the ceiling of their room in Darnall.
“The first time my roommate and I noticed [the mold] we just saw a bunch of black spots on the ceiling, but assumed the ceiling was dirty, we didn’t think it was mold,” McLaughlin said in an interview with The Hoya.
It wasn’t until McLaughlin roommate’s mother smelled the odor in the room, that they realized the black spots were mold.
McLaughlin was tested to check if he had spores in his lungs or had developed a mold allergy, but the tests returned negative results. McLaughlin’s roommate also visited a doctor because he had a previous experience with black mold that made him more susceptible to the effects of the spores.
Rivers said the administration needs to improve its efforts to support students who are affected by mold.
“I think there needs to be a larger allocation of funds focusing not only on housing but focusing on supporting students at large,” Rivers said.
Facilities was quick to address the issue, according to McLaughlin, although he feels that the underlying problem of mold in campus dorms is unresolved.
“When [facilities] did respond, they’ve been really nice and really consolidating [sic] with us, giving us this nice room and letting us keep it,” McLaughlin said. “But obviously, there was the problem in the first place.”
Correction: This article has been updated to correct Jonnalagadda’s school. This article has also been updated to correct Aleta Mack’s former position at Georgetown.