Students who start sniffling every time they enter their dorm room may have something other than their roommate’s dirty laundry to blame.

Facilities and Operations spokeswoman Diane Brown said the University Department of Occupational Safety and Environmental Health has this month seen an abnormally high number of reports of mold, which can trigger allergic reactions in some people.

Most reports come from residence halls and office space, because those are spaces where people spend prolonged periods of time, said Pamela Barker, manager of OSEH’s Occupational Safety and Community Health division.

Barker said there are no government regulations regarding at-risk mold concentrations. “It’s variable because it affects different people differently,” she said. “It depends on a person’s susceptibility.”

The National Center for Environmental Health website lists possible mold reactions including stuffy noses, itchy eyes and wheezing. More severe reactions can include fever and shortness of breath. The level of reaction depends on individual sensitivity.

Brown said multiple University divisions, such as OSEH, Plant Operations, Housing and the hospital, are responsible for small mold clean-ups. This decentralized system means no aggregate data is available for the magnitude of this month’s mold count. Brown said Risk Management, the University’s insurance company, hires a team for large mold cleanups, which are rare.

“We have (small) cleanups routinely in one room or at the (University) Hospital,” she said.

Older campus buildings require more diligence in mold prevention, including pipe replacements and repairs and ventilation system cleaning.

She said evidence that the mold problem has been worse this month is anecdotal and collected from the multiple University departments that respond to mold calls. Barker said there is no “average” for monthly mold calls because changing seasons foster flooding and humidity, which can lead to mold growth. Brown estimated that OSEH receives about one call a month. She said the first three weeks of this month have been worse than usual due to hot, wet weather.

The upsurge in mold reports on campus comes at a time when students in off-campus housing are discovering similar problems.

At the University Board of Regents meeting on Thursday, Michigan Student Assembly President Angela Galardi spoke about three students she knew who couldn’t move into their off-campus housing because of mold concerns. This was one factor in the decision to place the enforcement of students’ off-campus housing rights on the MSA list of priorities for this year.

Jason Mironov, student general counsel for MSA, said students should have the right to a decent housing experience. “MSA is dedicated to working with the University administration, local landlords and city and state government to create a student-friendly, quality off-campus living experience,” he said.

Barker and Brown both said students can prevent mold from growing in living areas. Brown said that mold concerns often start with windows left open over weekends or holidays, which lets rain into spaces and fosters mold growth.

Brown said the most important things students can do is to take ownership of their space and use good hygiene practices, such as keeping bathrooms and kitchens clean. Barker added that OSEH aims to dry out damp spaces within 24 hours to prevent mold growth and responds promptly to reports of floods and leaks. “Mold isn’t going to grow if the conditions aren’t right,” she said.

Barker said the University follows New York City guidelines for investigation, prevention and cleanup of visible mold. These specify that after a mold situation is reported, OSEH performs an interview with the caller, investigates the history of water problems in the space and assesses temperature, humidity levels and odor and moisture levels in building materials. If necessary, samples are taken and moisture meters are used to investigate suspected mold inside walls or behind wallpaper. “But typically if (mold is) there, you’re going to see it,” Barker said.

 

 

 

 

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