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Mold in Campus Housing: Students Tell Their Stories

It is November, the time of year when cold weather and cold symptoms prey on students. 

Some students, like third-year organizational communications major Bree Brandon, may not be so quick to peg the long-lasting cough as a cold. 

Last October, Brandon got a cold that quickly turned into a two-month-long cough, stopping only when she went home to Colorado for Thanksgiving. Her roommate in Finch experienced the same thing. As soon as they returned to Point Loma Nazarene University’s campus, they got sick again. 

She then realized that her cold symptoms must be attributed to her living conditions. She put in a work order, campus facilities tested for mold, and she got an email back the next day from her residential director. The mold report stated extremely high levels of mold in her dorm room. 

“When we first found out we had mold, they didn’t send us the mold analysis. I reached out to see the report, and that’s when I found out it was actual toxic mold. Black mold,” said Brandon.

In that same week, Brandon said she experienced bumps on her side abdomen that she attributed to something called “mold skin.” According to Healthline, mold skin is rash caused by an allergic reaction to mold. 

The rash and the long-lasting coughs were symptoms of mold exposure. Healthline also stated that coughing, wheezing, nose stuffiness, skin rash and a sore throat can be experienced with mold exposure, especially for those who have a mold allergy or weakened immune system. 

Kiera Niemeyer, third-year sociology-criminal justice minor, dealt with similar symptoms. She became increasingly sick over a long period of time when she lived in Young. 

“I ended up in the ER because I could not stop choking and throwing up, and it felt like I couldn’t breathe,” said Niemeyer. 

She also requested that her room be tested for mold; the test came back positive. She said her health issues slowly resolved after the room was cleaned. 

Mold is very common in regions of high humidity. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, areas containing extra water vapor plus a relative humidity (RH) above 60%, create the perfect home for mold spores to grow. In San Diego where the humidity levels have an annual average percentage of 69%, the presence of mold is inescapable. 

Graphic created by Christina Rice.

Jeff Bolster, PLNU’s vice president for University Services, outlined the three most common cases of mold that he deals with on campus. The first issue arises when students leave damp clothes or extra storage in places that are not frequently cleaned, like under the bed or in a closet. 

The second issue of mold is a result of a leaking pipe or some form of extra water in the room. Bolster said that last year, three rooms next to each other in Finch got mold because sprinklers repeatedly hit their walls at night. The third most common case of mold that Bolster sees on campus is found in the vents. 

Students who either see mold or experience health effects that might be related to mold can put in a work order at fixme.pointloma.edu to have their room inspected by campus facilities.

“We have a protocol that we’ve set up with Sodexo Custodial and our environmental health and safety consultants,” said Bolster. “If we don’t have a significant issue of water intrusion, we go through a two to three-hour cleaning process that involves full surface wipe down.” 

The process includes putting an organic biocide in the carpet, dry encapsulation cleaning of the carpets, checking the vents, checking any surfaces and looking for any environmental hazards.

As the resident director of Flex Housing and the Director of Residential Life, Beth Denny was trained in the work order and protocol cleaning process for mold. She said that in her experiences with reports of mold, more common than the presence of mold is the concern of possible mold.

“We see work orders come through, campus facilities has their process, and more often than not it comes back as not detected,” Denny said. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to mold may cause a variety of health effects, or none at all. People with mold allergies or weakened immune systems are more susceptible to fungal infections.  

Second-year nursing major Annabelle Rogers continually got sick for most of the school year last year — a cold, strep throat, the stomach bug. This began after she got COVID-19 following New Student Orientation and her immune system was down. Her symptoms continued through the fall and into the spring semester.

“Each day of the spring semester I was expecting to get better, and each day I kept getting worse,” Rogers said. 

Her nurse practitioner from home sent her a Mycotoxin test in March to see what the levels of mold were in her body. Her mold levels were very high. Now, she has been taking supplements for almost a year and is on a five-month regimen to target the mold.

Rogers is still dealing with long-term effects and said she has spent $6,000 to $7,000 in medicine. Her roommate, who had been living in Hendricks with her the entire year, was never once affected. 

“We think it was because of Covid that my immune system was down,” Rogers said. “It was probably such a small amount [of mold in the room].”

Bolster said that every student on campus deserves to have a safe and clean room and that the university has a standard to uphold and they stick to it. 

“Thankfully, we’ve never had a room (and I’ve been doing this for four years and was the dean of students for 10 years before that) where a student has been subjected to a long term toxic level of mold,” Bolster said. 

Bolster said that the ongoing conversation of mold provides opportunity for students to be educated on what’s really going on.

Niemeyer said that she would appreciate more communication from the school about mold. 

“I can definitely verify that it is not normal to live in mold causing the level of health issues I was experiencing, and that Point Loma has vast improvements they could make when it comes to student awareness surrounding the mold issue,” Niemeyer said.

The following list includes a few simple guidelines to follow in order to maintain a safe and healthy environment, as stated in the routine mold protocol cleaning email:

  • Maximize fresh air circulation with fans. 
  • Remove wet or damp laundry from the floor.
  • Promptly report any potential mold concerns. 

 A work order for mold can be submitted at fixme.pointloma.edu

Written By: Sofie Fransen