Thursday, November 17, 2011

South houses mold

By Courtney Donlin, News editor

Some South Hall residents were forced out of their dorms by a usually benign roommate – mold.

Juniors Nick Russ, Josh Kinne, Geoff Smith and Brandyn Ruesken moved out of their apartment-style dorm in South Hall 225 last month, after their room tested positive for 11 percent mold. Residential Life inspected South Hall for mold after Ruesken reported concern about the presence of mold in the building just before Halloween.

“Our immediate concern was just getting it cleaned up,” Director of Residential Life Tom Huelsbeck said. “Regardless of toxicity, mold is something you want to deal with and get cleaned up.”

Within 24 hours of being contacted, Residential Life responded, Kinne said. After Residential Life tested the walls and found moisture and the possibility of mold, Ruesken moved into another dorm. Kinne’s room was quarantined and he moved into Ruesken’s room. He brought what he would need for the next two weeks, as Residential Life told him the situation would be taken care of in that time.

That weekend, Kinne went home to visit his family. From there, he went straight to class and work.

“While I was at work, I was checking my email and I got an email from Res Life that says, ‘you need to move out of that room tonight because we found mold in the wall,’” Kinne said.

After receiving that email, Kinne opted to stay with his parents rather than on campus.

Buildings are not regularly tested for mold because the greatest risk for exposure is outdoors, not indoors, Health Center Director Dr. Matt Freeman said. Freeman also said although visible mold is not necessarily toxic, building checks are done once mold becomes visible.

“The biggest risk is someone who is immunocompromised,” Freeman said.

Students with compromised immune systems include students who have asthma or are HIV-positive. Small children and the elderly are also more susceptible to mold allergies than young adults.

“If you look at the list of things that affect the PLU population, mold is not high on the list,” Freeman said.

Ruesken is also the exception of students affected by mold, at least as far as the Health Center knows.

“There has not been a single student,” Freeman said. “No one has brought anything to my attention.”

This does not exclude the possibility of students seeking medical attention outside of PLU.

Kinne, whose room in the apartment was closest to the mold found in a wall, said he didn’t notice any affects from the mold, but was frustrated with the resulting inconveniences.

“In a new building like South, you would expect it to be built to avoid these kinds of problems but the reality is, South has not been built to avoid these kinds of problems,” Kinne said. “It looks nice on the outside and it even looks nice in the rooms too, but when it comes down to it, there’s leaky pipes, there’s mold in the wall.”

Huelsbeck said South Hall has had three floods in the past year, all for separate reasons. Since the last flood, Residential Life has gone through South Hall and sealed off any areas where cold air can get through to the pipes. A PVC plastic pipe expert also came to look at how South’s pipe system was set up, Huelsbeck said. All of the steps taken were to prevent future floods or mold.

“This is the one mold issue we’ve known of,” Huelsbeck said. “In other places we’ve been able to take out the affected areas dry them out and put them back together.”

In general, mold allergies can be hard to spot.

“It can be hard to really diagnose,” Educator for the Health Center Matt Munson said. “A lot of these symptoms are symptoms of other things.”

Typical symptoms of a mold allergy can include sneezing or asthmatic episodes, Munson said.

After the apartment-style dorm was inspected for mold, the roommates had to vacate their room and move into other rooms in South Hall. Russ is currently living in a single.

“We might get to move back in in December at the earliest, but I’m going to be in Antarctica,” Russ said. “None of us grabbed everything that we needed. I’ve had to go back in there to grab and extra plate and stuff like that.”