Student Safety Tips: Fighting Mold in College Dorms

Last month some Howard University students occupied the Blackburn University Center building to protest concerns that they feel the school administration hasn’t adequately addressed. The students claim there isn’t adequate university housing available and the school’s COVID-19 response isn’t sufficient. Students are also protesting living conditions in the dorms, which allegedly contain mold and rodents. The housing issues are so severe that some students have pitched tents outside the University Center.

In a State of the University address,  President Wayne A.I. Frederick said that mold was reported in 41 of the school’s 2700 dorm rooms. He added that some of the problems arose when dorms were vacant during pandemic restrictions.

Sadly, the mold issue is more widespread than just limited to a single university. Similar mold issues in dorms have been reported during this semester at George Washington University, Duke University, University of Florida and Kansas State College. Part of the problem is that by the time students discover mold in their dorm rooms, the problem has spread. Exposure to mold can cause a variety of health problems, ranging from allergy-like symptoms like coughing and congestion to more severe issues that include ear infections, memory loss and personality changes.

Dorms are an active breeding ground for mold. Older facilities might have complicated and ineffective HVAC systems that prevent air from circulating properly. Older buildings also might have undetected plumbing leaks. Some regions experience higher rainfall and humidity and the moist air can cause mold to form on surfaces.

Some higher education institutions have developed mold management plans to hamper the growth of mold in buildings. Old Dominion University’s (Norfolk, Va.) mold management plan created by its Office of Environmental Health and Safety department, takes a combination of preventative and remediation to address mold growth.

Preventative measures focus on controlling indoor moisture from steamy showers, leaky pipes and humidity, for instance. Old Dominion’s plan recommends:

  • Fixing leaky plumbing and gaps in the building envelope.
  • Watch for condensation and wet spots and fix sources of water problems as soon as possible.
  • Increase surface temperature with more insulation or by increasing air circulation.
  • Reduce the moisture in indoor air by repairing leaks, increasing ventilation if outdoor air is cold and dry or dehumidifying the space if outdoor air is warm and humid.
  • Clean HVAC drip pans and keep the systems operating normally.
  • Vent appliances that generate moisture – like dryers – to the outside when possible.
  • Maintain indoor humidity levels below 60 percent relative humidity, if possible.
  • Regularly inspect the building and HVAC systems and repair as necessary.
  • Clean and dry any wet spots immediately, within 48 hours.
  • Prevent building foundations from staying wet by ensuring proper drainage.

Remediation efforts restore satisfactory building conditions and typically include repairing water damage, completely eliminating existing mold and addressing any source or underlying cause of water accumulation.

  • If visible mold is present, consider the amount of mold present and the type of material that’s contaminated.
  • Contain the source of water.
  • Dry wet porous materials like carpeting and drywall effectively within 48 hours by vacuum extraction and dehumidification to prevent mold growth.
  • Discard porous materials that can’t be cleaned of mold.
  • Clean non-porous building materials using detergent, diluted bleach or cleaners specially formulated for mold.

After the remediation process, the moisture problem should be corrected to prevent future issues. There should be no visible mold or musty smells. Any air sampling conducted after cleanup should result in lower concentrations of mold than outside. And finally, people should be able to occupy the space without physical symptoms.