Some students have sent a petition to Loyola officials after they said mold in an on-campus dorm made them sick — with one student saying he coughed up blood several times as a result. The university said some students may be sensitive to mold, but residents aren’t in danger.
Francis Koch, a 19-year-old accounting major, said he coughed up blood several times this semester while living in St. Louis Hall (6244 N. Winthrop Ave.). He said he spent a few nights sleeping in the Loyola Information Commons because he couldn’t stand to be in his room for more than three hours.
Loyola’s Department of Facilities, which manages building maintenance on campus, received three service requests for mold in St. Louis Hall, according to Kana Henning, the vice president of the department. A resident assistant filed the first two requests Aug. 15, and a third request was made Oct. 14.
Henning said they found common mold and mildew in the showers caused by a lack of ventilation and recommended students keep windows open when showering to improve airflow. The bathrooms don’t have exhaust fans but Residence Life — the department in charge of campus dorms — and Facilities are discussing what long-term maintenance is needed, Henning said.
This is the first time Residence Life has overseen St. Louis Hall, because it was an International House last year — a residence hall which housed some international students.
While some students may be more sensitive to mold, Henning said there’s no danger to residents.
In an Oct. 28 email to Facilities and Residence Life, students said they were concerned about having their windows open in the winter.
A resident who The Phoenix isn’t naming said she experienced “flu-like symptoms,” such as coughing, a runny nose and sore throat, this semester, which only cleared up when she left her dorm. She said her doctor said her symptoms were due to an allergic reaction from mold.
“It was really shocking to find out that the reason I was sick all semester was because I was having an allergic reaction to mold,” she said.
The resident said she thought the mold was mostly from the old air conditioning units, where she saw black spots and “mold-like spheres.”
Students sent a petition to Residence Life and Loyola’s Office of the President Oct. 14 detailing frustrations with the conditions in St. Louis Hall. The petition has more than 150 signatures as of publication.
“The conditions in St. Louis are affecting our health and academic performance,” the petition reads. “We are experiencing issues with mold, pest, fire hazards, and malfunctioning radiators.”
Deb Schmidt-Rogers, Loyola assistant vice president and director of Residence Life, said she received the email and petition from the students. She said Loyola hired an independent company to test for airborne mold outside the dorm, in dorm rooms and hallways the next morning, Oct. 15.
Schmidt-Rogers and Henning met with St. Louis Hall residents to address their concerns Oct. 17. In the meeting, Schmidt-Rogers said facilities planned to shampoo carpets and deep clean bathrooms, which was done over the next week.
The company returned to test again a week later on Oct. 21. Both tests came back negative, lacking “conditions that would suggest there were internal air quality issues at the time of the inspection,” according to Schmidt-Rogers.
In the Oct. 28 email to Facilities and Residence Life, students also contested these results, which they say don’t meet the requirements for safe levels of mold indoors. It’s unclear if this is true, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has no specific guidelines for indoor mold count. According the the CDC, mold can cause “stuffy nose, wheezing, and red or itchy eyes, or skin” and people with asthma and allergies may have more “intense reactions.”
“It was really shocking to find out that the reason I was sick all semester was because I was having an allergic reaction to mold,” the anonymous female student said.
During this time, the air conditioning units in all the rooms were removed. This happens every year when the heat in the building is turned on but was a few weeks earlier than usual due to student concerns, Schmidt-Rogers said.
Residence Life bought fans for a dozen students after the department received complaints of overheating without the air conditioning units.
Residence Life and Facilities didn’t give an exact cost for the tests and fans when asked, but Henning wrote the tests have cost about $1,000 in the past. Schmidt-Rogers said the fans were “not a significant cost.”
Since removing the air conditioning units, the female student said her symptoms have subsided.
Six students have relocated to other buildings on campus, Schmidt-Rogers said. Koch moved out of St. Louis Hall Oct. 18 and said his symptoms have cleared up since he left. Despite not finding evidence of airborne mold, Schmidt-Rogers said Residence Life will still accommodate those who wish to move.
This isn’t the first time The Phoenix has reported on alleged “air quality issues” in an on-campus building having “bodily effects” on people. Last year, employees working in BVM Hall told The Phoenix they reported issues to the administration in 2013 with little being done by the time the story was reported in February 2018.