Mold in Dorm Rooms: Mold Can be a Back-to-School Health Hazard

Mold in Dorm Rooms

Mold is one of a variety of health issues college students may face as they begin moving into dorms.  Students needn’t worry about mold on shower curtains or cereal bowls. But black mold infestation (for example, the kind that grows in walls) can be extremely hazardous to your health. The color of mold is constantly changing, so it’s hard to say what types are toxic mold,  but mold is particularly problematic for those with asthma, allergies or other respiratory conditions. Mold in dorm rooms is common because they tend to be damp and sealed buildings.

As many dorm rooms and classrooms sat empty over the summer, water leaks, moisture intrusion, high humidity and lack of ventilation may have allowed mold in dorm rooms to begin growing in both visible spaces and behind walls and ceilings. Any mold growth can quickly become aerosolized when students and faculty begin using these buildings. Just last month, it was reported that the West Branch Board of Education, in West Branch, Iowa, met in a closed door session to discuss if they should file a lawsuit against a mechanical systems company that installed a faulty system the previous year that allowed humidity levels to hit 96% and delay the school year for some students.  The school district ended up paying $155,000 to have the subsequent mold growth removed.

Many of these same health issues are just as relevant to the millions of kindergarten through high school students who will also be heading back to school in the next two months.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Poor indoor air quality can impact the comfort and health of students and staff, which, in turn, can affect concentration, attendance, and student performance. In addition, if schools fail to respond promptly to poor IAQ, students and staff are at an increased risk of short-term health problems, such as fatigue and nausea, as well as long-term problems like asthma.”

Mold in the bathroom or kitchen is easily preventable by wiping down counter tops and keeping things dry. (Mold thrives in warm and wet conditions.) If mold does begin to grow on dirty dishes, it’s perfectly safe to wash with soap and water, says the University of Arizona’s LeCorgne. However, if you notice mold in dorm rooms, which can usually be detected by mildewy smell if it’s within the walls, Brinchman says to steer clear. “Students should treat it like a burning building and get out,” she says. Professional mold abatement services may be required for complete mold removal.