Since the semester began in August, the residents of two New Apartments (New Apts), D1 and D8, have been forced to vacate due to mold. The residents of these apartments have moved to other housing while the College takes steps to remedy the infestation.
Mold has been a recurring issue in the New Apts in recent years. In 2019, students living in D1 were temporarily relocated to Weaver Cottage when black mold was detected in the apartment. In 2003, residents of D2 were temporarily relocated to the Kenyon Inn due to extensive mold growth in their unit.
Vice President for Facilities, Planning and Sustainability Ian Smith explained that the New Apts might be especially susceptible to mold because of their location in a wooded area on North campus. “Outdoor ambient mold levels are often higher in relatively shady, moist environments such as [the] forested area around the New Apts,” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. Honor White ’23, one of the D1 residents, noted similar concerns and added that her apartment may have been especially at risk because of its location right at the swampy bottom of a hill.
According to another one of this year’s D1 residents, Sari Wagner ’23, she and her housemates began to feel the effects as soon as they arrived on campus, though no mold was visible. “As soon as we all walked in, we could smell it. Strongly,” she said. Wagner, who is immunocompromised and therefore at higher risk for mold-related illnesses, believes the mold made her physically sick, causing symptoms including fatigue and voice loss. White echoed this. “Within not even a week of living there, I personally started [getting] really bad headaches and waking up with a sore throat,” she explained. “I felt sick basically from moving in. And I noticed if I was sitting in my room doing work, my headache would get progressively worse.”
Beyond physical illness, White also described how the mold made their living space unpleasant to be in. “I didn’t want to spend any time in the apartment because it was so gross,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while some mold is normal, mold can cause adverse health effects including “stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing or wheezing, burning eyes, or skin rash,” plus more severe effects for immunocompromised people.
Even before they began experiencing its effects, when White and her roommates moved in they conducted a mold test, given that they knew apartment D1 had a history of mold issues. According to Wagner, the test they administered eventually came back showing several types of mold, including black mold. As they waited for the results and began to feel ill, though, they contacted the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) with their concerns. ResLife conducted an initial test on Aug. 29, which showed that further testing was needed. On Sept. 6, White and her roommates received the results of ResLife’s initial test and were given the option to move out of the New Apt into the McIlvaine Apartments.
Vice President for Facilities Ian Smith explained the process that begins when mold is reported. “The fundamental principle that the college follows in this process is to correct root causes (usually involving moisture as one of them) as we address the effects of those causes (in this case, mold propagation),” he wrote in an email to the Collegian. In this case, that meant addressing the mold growth in the apartment where it was reported, while relocating residents for their safety.
When the D1 residents learned they would be able to move, they didn’t know when — or if — they would be able to return to their New Apt. White described this as an uncertain period, explaining she and her roommates were constantly anxious, not knowing where they would be living the next week. “It was so mentally stressful to be in this limbo of, like, ‘I don’t know if we can actually stay here or not,’” White said. “It’s really important to have a space that’s your own, and we just didn’t have that.”
Meanwhile, a second test was conducted on both D1 and New Apt D8, which had also reported mold. The results of the second test, which the D1 residents received on Sept. 16, showed the presence of mold in both D1 and D8, with a more severe case in D8. Unlike the test conducted upon move in by the D1 residents, this test did not show black mold in D1. The report notes, though, that the results for that apartment unit might be contaminated, given an air purifier was running at the time samples were taken. According to Wagner, the results for D8 (where an air purifier was not running), did show the presence of black mold.
Smith explained that given mold was detected, the College will undertake remediation actions recommended by outside consultants and re-test the apartments for mold before they are brought back as suitable residential spaces. “Following completion of recommended remediation action(s), the housing units will be allowed to sit undisturbed for at least two days, followed by air sampling to confirm that remediation had the intended effect on airborne mold levels,” he said. Smith emphasized that the results of these tests are understood relative to measurements taken at the same time in the outside environment.
White said that after receiving the results of ResLife’s second test, she and her roommates requested that they be allowed to remain in the McIlvaine apartments for the remainder of the school year. This was both to avoid the stress of moving again in the middle of the semester, and because they were concerned about their health should they return to the New Apt. “We don’t feel safe in that house,” White said.
Grace Cox ’23, another of Wagner’s roommates, said it was the pattern of mold in the D-block specifically that made them hesitant to return. “Clearly the remediation [in 2019] did not fully clean up mold, nor did it prevent more,” she said. “I think that’s what ultimately the issue is, that no remediation of that unit will ever stop the mold.”
They also expressed frustration that they only really saw a response from the College after they had their parents contact administrators. “We were kept very much in the dark until parents got involved,” said Alina Kalmeyer ’23, another D1 resident. “[The College only responded] when they started advocating for us, after we had already been advocating for ourselves.”
The former D1 residents will be able to remain in the MacIlvaine apartments for the rest of the year, but they remain concerned about the issue of mold in the New Apts. Wagner and White explained that a big concern of theirs is other students, particularly the students still living in the D block, not being aware of the potential risk. They said that to their knowledge, their neighbors have not been informed about the issues in their apartment. “I think they’re not going to inform people of the fact that this is happening, unless they actively speak up for themselves, which is kind of messed up,” White said.
While White and her housemates remain concerned, Smith disputed the popular narrative that the New Apts are constantly infested with mold. He said that, in general, New Apts do not have mold levels higher than those found in the surrounding environment. For this reason, to his knowledge, regular testing is not done for mold in campus residences. “Mold is generally not an issue, so it is addressed as it is reported and if subsequent investigation indicates a need for further action such as remediation.”Director of Residential Life Leah Rueber offered advice for students who think they may have mold in their residential space: “If a resident notices an abnormal change in their respiration that cannot be attributed to common allergies or other illness and can visibly identify mold in their living area, they should let our office know,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian. “A staff member will assess the location of the concern and make a recommendation for professional testing if there is evidence to support this need.”