Lab-tested mold samples from OU Couch Center have revealed four different types of mold that can cause health issues for residents, an OU Daily investigation prompted by student complaints regarding mold in the dorms has found.
Complaints have been filed about mold in Walker Center, Couch Center and Adams Tower since September, according to the OU Housing and Food website. OU Housing & Food released a further statement on its website stating it had received the complaints and “encourages students to continue to report suspected mold and mildew.”
The Daily conducted a mold air test using a Mold Armor Test Kit to test the air quality in the dorms independently. OU freshman and Walker Center resident Elizabeth Cormack allowed The Daily to conduct this test using the air quality within her dorm on the 11th floor. Cormack said she has had no previous issues with mold, currently has no known issues with mold and has never filed a complaint to Housing & Food.
The kit purchased for $8 from Home Depot comes with a petri dish and a potato dextrose, a mold-growing medium.
The petri dish was placed on a level surface after the medium was poured and evenly distributed in the petri dish. The dish was left near the air vent outtake, unsheltered for an hour and then covered for an hour. After that the dish was taped shut and left in a darkened, room temperature area to incubate. After approximately 18 hours, mold spores had appeared in the dish.
The Daily sent this indoor air sample to a lab for proper analysis on Dec. 1 and it received the results on Dec. 10.
The analysis report from the lab stated there were four different types of mold species found in the dorm: Aspergillus, Penicillium, Rhizomucor and Exserohilum. These types of mold are found in areas with high levels of moisture, heat or soil-borne areas, according to the Mold & Bacteria Consulting Laboratories.
Any type of mold, including these, can cause issues with allergies or allergy-like illnesses, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Rhizomucor is a type of mold found specifically near air vents or AC units in households. It contains zygomycetes which are specific types of fungi that if inhaled enough can cause health problems for those living in the contaminated area, according to the American Society of Microbiology.
If this type of mold is constantly inhaled or ingested, in extreme cases, the resident can develop zygomycosis which can then cause rhinocerebral and pulmonary diseases, according the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After inhaled, fungi or mold can continue growing in the lungs and this continued growth can protrude airways and cause allergic reactions or sinus infections. If the infection continues to get worse, it could create bronchospasm, according to Veronica Horton, respiratory therapist at Hillcrest South Hospital.
Bronchospasm is a tightness and constriction of the bronchi which will cause coughing, wheezing and lack of easy inhalation.
Horton said any kind of mold growing in the residence will affect the body in some kind of way depending on how sensitive someone is to the mold.
Lauren Parrish, a secondary English education freshman who is currently living in Couch Center, said she found mold in her bathroom on move-in day.
She said she did not think much of it until she began to hear about multiple students finding mold on her floor in their air vents. She said she then filled out a maintenance request and gained confirmation from the maintenance employee that it was mold she found. She said the employee then took apart the AC unit and sprayed it with bleach
Many OU students have experienced similar problems, which has sparked concern on the Sooner Parents Facebook page.
Sally Smith, a parent of OU freshman Jane Smith, said she became concerned after only a couple days of her daughter living in Couch Center.
Jane Smith, a biology freshman developed a sore throat, swollen tonsils and constant congestion. She was also taking two antihistamines a day to help cope with her symptoms so she could try to make it to class.
“She was fine when she was at home with us. She didn’t have any symptoms,” Sally Smith said. “But when she went back to the dorms, within a couple of days her symptoms started again.”
The symptoms became so intense that Jane Smith had to sleep sitting up just so she could breathe properly. Her primary physician became so concerned, he suggested she have her tonsils removed so she would not choke on them while she slept.
“She couldn’t breathe if she laid flat,” Sally Smith said. “We bought her a dehumidifier and thought that would be sufficient until we started seeing the Facebook posts and someone had posted a video of mold on their ceiling.”
Sally Smith had her daughter check her room for any mold and she eventually found a build-up of debris in her air vent, which was cleaned after a maintenance request was made. After only a couple of weeks, the debris reappeared.
She then had maintenance return to re-clean the debris out of her air vent.
The maintenance employee came in, sprayed bleach in the air vent, wiped down the outside and then left, leaving the debris still in the outtake vent, Jane Smith said.
She has continued to remain sick the entire semester and has only felt relief from her symptoms when she is out of the dorm, she said.
Alaina Daly, a former OU student, became sick during her one semester in fall 2014 living in Couch Center. She later left the university due to personal issues.
Daly also suffers from Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that causes damage in the intestinal lining.
“We would always find mold in our bathroom and we would clean and clean and clean,” Daly said. “I also got really sick the semester I was there. My Celiac got worse while I was there.”
Housing & Food stated they would start room-to-room cleanings of the dorms to satisfy the mold complaints. This type of cleaning is usually reserved for breaks, but Housing & Food said they would be speeding up the process for student safety and care and contacted Facilities Management in October, according to an email from Amy Buchanan, OU Housing & Food Services Director of Marketing and Communications, sent in November. No further updates have been made about the concerns on the OU Housing & Food website since then.
“These maintenance practices usually occur during breaks and summers in order to not disturb residents. However, with the heightened concern from residents, Housing and Food Services felt it necessary to take precautionary steps. This process takes several months to complete. Residents will be notified via OU email one week in advance of scheduled cleanings,” the release stated.
In order to determine if residents had issues similar to this before this semester, The Daily contacted Dani Moses, an OU graduate who lived in Couch Center 10 years ago as a freshman. She said she constantly had issues with humidity and water building up in her air conditioning unit.
“I feel like the AC didn’t drain correctly and there weren’t any low-ventilated bathrooms,” Moses said. “Anytime anyone took a shower or used any hot water, the room would just ‘sauna up’ in there and it never went away so there was just moisture everywhere.”
Moses said she purchased a dehumidifier for the room with her roommate and they had to drain it often.
“We would pull gallons of water out of the air daily,” Moses said.
A typical dehumidifier, if used in extreme or heavily humid conditions, can extract 10-20 litres, daily.
Buchanan attributed the mold issues to the heightened precipitation of the season and said there was a need for additional maintenance.
Updated: This story was changed at 5 p.m. Dec. 13 to provide anonymity for two sources. Their identities are known to The Daily, but names were changed in order to protect their identity for personal safety reasons.