Kentucky universities plagued by mold problems

Natasha Breu

WKU is not the only Kentucky university experiencing mold outbreaks in campus buildings, and a WKU geoscience professor said changes in summer climate could be the cause.

Leslie North, an associate professor of environmental geoscience at WKU, said climate change could have an indirect role in mold growth. North said homes and businesses are being affected by water from floods or extreme weather from climate change, causing moisture to be left behind and promoting mold growth, that isn’t the exact case for Kentucky residence halls. She said energy savings programs resulting in WKU residence halls being shut down during the summer are a big factor.

“We are experiencing warmer and wetter summers, two factors which mold loves,” North said in an email. “Couple those items with stagnant, humid air in the buildings (we know that climate change is resulting in indoor environmental quality changes such as dampness increase in buildings) and you have a perfect recipe for mold growth.”

Following multiple reports of mold in Minton Hall, WKU announced all 348 Minton residents would be relocated for the remainder of the semester in mid-November. WKU said it would provide $1,000 in credit to all residents impacted for their spring 2019 housing bill. Additionally any resident assistants, community assistants and senior administrative resident assistants who received a roommate from the move-out were offered $250 in credit.

In total, Housing and Residential Life is anticipated to spend $634,000 on the mold removal and credit, according to a statement from WKU director of media relations Bob Skipper.

In an analysis of all maintenance request forms found on InSite, a public database, the Herald found 524 reports of mold across campus as of Nov. 12.

The University of Louisville received complaints from freshman Bethany Morgan on Oct. 31 about mold growing in Threlkeld Hall. Her Facebook post showed pictures of mold growing on furniture and clothes, cockroaches in her hall bathroom and her swollen eyes from an apparent allergic reaction. 

Campus housing officials held a meeting to address students’ concerns and took notes about complaints, according to WHAS11. Campus housing told Morgan that staff would try to use a cleaning solution to combat the mold and work over winter break to do renovations in different parts of the building.

U of L also has a section on its website dedicated to preventing and reporting mold and mildew in residence halls. It stated residents should follow three C’s: cleaning, climate and communication. 

The Eastern Progress, EKU’s student newspaper, reported faculty and staff complaints on Sept. 19 over water leaks causing mold in offices. The Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences had to move 13 staff members from their original building to a different one only to find out it was also affected by mold. The staff moved one last time into a third building, which also had several mold problems because of HVAC units and the carpeting. 

The solution to fix the mold problem in the first building came from the Asset Preservation Fee, which applies a $10 per credit hour fee capped off at $150 in order to “preserve and maintain older buildings on campus.” The fee was implemented this fall by the Board of Regents and the estimated revenue is $1.5 million per semester. The fee is scheduled to end in 2043. 

Morehead State University President Jay Morgan had his on-campus home affected by mold in September, according to the Morehead News, causing the university to amend his employment contract, allowing him and his family to move off-campus. The mold was discovered throughout his home in the heating and air conditioning units.

The Trail Blazer, Morehead State’s student newspaper, reported Morgan also addressed mold in dorms by meeting with the SGA and contracting an environmental cleaning firm to target mold in several different buildings. He said students wanting to move out should be taken seriously and health issues due to mold are his first concern.

Morehead State also has a section on its website dedicated to mold characteristics and health effects, along with mold prevention tips, similar to U of L’s. 

Mold found in Murray State’s Springer Residential Hall in 2016 caused students to have to relocate, and the hall was demolished this past summer due to a continuation of that mold problem from an incomplete HVAC system renovation, according to the Murray Ledger and Times. 

At Indiana University, there were 420 requests for mold inspections in two dorms as of Oct. 15, according to WTHR. The university inspected and tested each room and provided free laundry to affected students. 

IU students are now asking for a temporary restraining order against the university after the discovery of mold, according to Indiana Public Media. The class-action lawsuit alleges university communications regarding the mold were misleading and not transparent. 

The university encouraged students to look at a “mold score” to find out if their dorm is safe, according to the article. Attorneys argue mold scores are inconsistent and are the result of an air sample test but won’t show if mold is growing. Additionally, the attorneys said the air filters installed in affected halls may improve air quality but fail to solve the problem.

If the restraining order is approved, the university will not be able to discuss mold score with students in the future. The students are also asking for the university to be restrained from destroying evidence of mold and to preserve evidence using tape lift samples and photographs, according to the article. 

Attorneys representing the university argue there is no health emergency, and air quality inside the dorms are at acceptable levels. They said the university is working to address the mold issue in 1,200 rooms and the majority of the cleaning is done. Additionally, the attorneys said students can check the status of individual rooms on the university website and documentation can be provided when available. 

A judge issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, which prevents the university from destroying evidence of mold, according to the Indiana Daily Student. 

 

News reporter Natasha Breu can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Natasha on Twitter @nnbreu.