Was Mold At American University Making Students Sick?

As midterms season wraps up on campus, students are worried about a bigger problem - mold. 

Freshman students in Letts Hall say they've been dealing with a mold problem in their rooms for a long time.

Some are saying that it's affecting their health to the point of having to change rooms. 

The University moved Julia Whitman, a freshman at American and writer for Her Campus, to a different dorm after multiple complaints about the fungus making her sick. 

"In early October, my roommate and I woke up to a very strange smell in our room. We weren't sure what the smell was, but it reminded us of rotting garbage. The next day, the smell was worse and I was starting to feel ill. That night, my RA entered my room and immediately walked out due to how strong the smell was when you entered through our door. We called 2fix and they sent a facilities manager to check it out. Maintenance moved my desk away from the radiator and discovered that the entire back of the desk was covered in mold and so was the carpet below it. They wiped down the desk and the moldy parts of the carpet to stop further mold from growing. The next morning I woke up feeling light headed and having a difficult time breathing. The problem had not been fixed and now it was affecting my health in a huge way. My mom and I contacted the Assistant Director of Housing and Facilities Management who told me that if I felt like I really could not live in my room, then they would give me temporary housing, but only if it was absolutely necessary, which at that point it was." 

Unfortunately, that new room on the Terrace floor wasn't much better and Whitman found mold growing there too.

"That night I moved down to the Terrace floor of Letts Hall where much to my surprise I discovered more mold on the radiator of that room. While down in Terrace I met a lot of really great individuals who showed me that their mold situation was worse than mine due to the fact that it was in multiple rooms, but also in their ceilings among other places."

While after a week of calling and multiple maintenance visits Whitman's room is now mold free, she says she believes the whole residence hall, where nearly 600 students live, needs to be completely redone. 

"They need to completely tear apart this building, and clean it head to toe." - Julia Whitman

Other students on the Terrace floor of Letts say the mold grew right near their beds. 

"Our beds are lofted where we are sleeping and we looked closer and saw furry black and green mold," says Terrace resident, Katie Brown. 

They found the fungus on ceiling tiles, in rugs, and on furniture. 

Students say this problem isn't a new one. We obtained a maintenance request made in 2015 from AU senior Trevor Brown who says mold was growing on his rug after his AC unit was leaking. 

Paige Goldstein, a sophomore who lived in Letts terrace her freshman year, remembers a girl on her floor who repeatedly got sick during her first year at AU.  "The school inspected her room and they said she had mold in her room. She started having headaches, dizziness, just like feel like all around sick," says Goldstein.

A teacher's assistant, Kong Cheong, says he's been at the school as a graduate student for four years and every year he's had a "batch of freshman complaints about the mold situation in Anderson and Letts." 

Some students are saying that the response time for the maintenance requests that they put in aren't what they were expecting. 

Harper Leigh, a freshman at AU, says that maintenance came after over a week of her calling and putting in requests. "We put in a 2fix request to come look at it and a week and a half went by and no one came by," Harper says.

An AU spokesperson says that the response time is supposed to be much faster than that. "My understanding is we respond within 24-48 hours when we receive a mold complaint that comes into facilities management," said Mark Story an AU spokesperson. He advised students to report potential mold sightings as soon as possible, "If you spot it, we’ll first come to the room with a cleaning crew, mold remediation experts, and in some cases we go and test the air quality in the surrounding area, to make sure that that’s an acceptable level as well." 

Well, those air quality tests did come. 

After the media pushed the University about the mold issues, the school sent out an email informing students that they would be conducting air quality testing in the building. 

The tests came back as normal according to the Environmental Protection Agency standards that the school uses to evaluate air quality. The next day, the school let students know that a mold remediation company would be coming in and cleaning the most affected areas. We saw the mold remediation process happening on Letts terrace where men from ACM Services Inc. were working behind plastic tarps and cleaning at least eight rooms. 

Assistant Director of Environmental Health and Safety Risk Management at American University, Phillip Brown, says the mold was caused by microscopic holes in the cooling pipes in ceilings which combined with the intense rains this summer created condensation that turned into mold on the ceiling tiles and pipes. He says the school will be re-insulating the pipes during winter break when students are away. 

"I just feel like they need to be more on top of things like this so they don't happen. But I think it's good that they're taking action and letting us know and sending emails out. I just wish it didn't take such a blowup story for them to realize that this stuff is happening," says freshman Molly Molloy.

American University spokesperson, Mark Story, says the mold problem caught the attention of people high up at AU. He encourages any student dealing with mold problems to contact 2Fix and says they will try to get someone there immediately. 

 

Photos: 1-2 Julia Whitman, 3 Harper-Leigh, 4 Trevor Brown, 5-6 American University