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Campus Health News

The Goodwin-Kirk mold crisis: a look into the damage


Residence hall conditions are being reviewed after students reported mold in their buildings, especially during the early months of fall semester.

Director of Environmental Health and Safety Chris Nickell said in an email interview that the Goodwin-Kirk residence hall is the main building experiencing “excessive humidity issues.” He said that he did not receive a number of “verified mold incidents” because some complaints did not find actual mold upon investigation. 

“In some places it almost looked like dust, but if you shined a light on it, it was like, ‘Oh God,’ that’s not dust,” said Alice Zieska, a resident of Goodwin-Kirk. She said an “underlying” smell in the room tipped her off, and she found mold on the carpet, dressers and bed frames a week later, around the end of September.

Nickell said his office gets reports of possible mold from several buildings every year, generally in the late summer and early fall months when it is still warm and humid outside.

“This is due to the fact that we are located in Iowa and the cyclical nature of the mold growth cycle,” he said in his email. 

Mold spores thrive on warmth and moisture, Nickell said, and surfaces made of organic material like wood, paper or fibers provide ‘food’ for mold.

“When we are responding to concerns about mold, we typically see a surface, such as a wall or carpet area where moisture made conditions for mold growth more likely,” he said. 

Sophomore Pema Zellman said nothing would stick to the walls in her room, and the bed sheets felt wet at night due to the increased moisture. Her roommates discovered mold on the carpet and windowsill of their Goodwin-Kirk dorm around early October.

Nickell said the chances for mold growth will dissipate with the onset of colder, drier weather, but the resolution of mold reports is ongoing for his office, Facilities Planning and Management and the Office of Residence Life. He said buildings will be evaluated for ways to improve air circulation and moisture control. Also, two new air conditioning units were installed at Goodwin-Kirk over fall break, said Lorissa Snowden, assistant dean of students and director or residence life.

If a relocation is necessary to resolve a maintenance issue like mold, Snowden said she coordinates with students and the other departments involved about when and if the student can return to their room.

“Any time a student is uncomfortable in their living space, I’m happy to work with them regarding a room change,” Snowden said. 

Neither Zellman nor Zieska had to change rooms. They both said the mold was cleaned by an employee from facilities within the same day it was reported. After the cleaning, both students received a dehumidifier, which they said has effectively reduced moisture.

Zellman said, however, that she brought her own mold killer back from fall break to tackle some residual mold in the dorm. Zieska also said mold was still present in a few places that were out of reach, like crevices of the bed frame.

Nickell said that he tries to speak with residents in person when they report mold, and he suggests ways to prevent its return, including “configuring their room to increase air circulation.” Students also received a document listing preventive tips like emptying trash and promptly cleaning spills.

In addition to building reviews, plans are in place to improve ventilation in the quads this summer, Nickell said.

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