Mold and Moisture Problems for College Students

Most people are aware that living with factors such as mold, and dust mites is quite harmful. Eventually, poor indoor air quality can lead to a variety of health issues including asthma and allergies. Despite these issues with mold and dampness being more well known, moisture problems seem to be becoming more and more common across college campuses.

In November of 2016, students at Duke University noticed symptoms of mold in some dorms and apartments located on campus. In response, Duke had the areas tested for mold by an environmental firm. Some of the tests did come back showing signs of mold so the university had to address the mold issues by cleaning the air handling units.

Other examples of mold in college campuses can be found across the country. For instance, similar to Duke, Northwestern University reported mold in the student dormitories and many students had to be relocated. Symptoms of mold were also seen in an older building at the University of Kansas. The source of the mold turned out be an outdated air conditioning system.

Sometimes, the presence of mold can lead to odd living arrangements. At St. Mary’s College of Maryland, mold was detected in two of the dormitories. Officials for the schools discovered that mold was spreading in the insulation around air conditioning vents, which led to the evacuation of 350 students. Initially all of the students were moved to hotels during the clean up process, however, commuting to classes was challenging for the students accustomed to living on campus. Consequently, the school brought in a cruise ship, the Sea Voyager. The Sea Voyager docked at the St. Mary’s pier and became the temporary home for 240 of the displaced students.

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Are College Students More at Risk?

All of these instances of mold lead to the question of why does mold seem to be so frequent in and around college campuses. A 2015 research study in Canada examined this Sea Voyager Cruise Ship Docked at matter more closely. The purpose of the study was to find out how common moisture issues are for university students and what housing factors contribute to this.

It was hypothesized that college students are at a higher risk for mold issues. The first reason being that college students generally don’t have a lot of money and thus, may be living in lower income housing. Cheaper housing often means older buildings that are not as well maintained, both of which can contribute to moisture issues.

Another reason housing designed for college students may be more likely have to mold problems is the frequent turnover. Tenants may change every few months compared to traditional housing that could be years at a time. Again, this could lead to a lack of maintenance by landlords who don’t feel as obligated to maintain the apartments, in addition to carelessness by the tenants who know they won’t be staying for long.

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The Setup

The study took place at Université de Sherbrooke located in Quebec, Canada. All of the 26,676 students were invited to participate via their campus email addresses. 3,029 students provided a response, and it was determined that 2,097 students were eligible to participate.

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The Procedure

To determine if moisture issues were present, the participants completed a questionnaire. Most of the questions were taken from established health surveys, such as the Europeans Community Respiratory Health Survey I and II, and the Canadian Collectivity Health Survey. Once the questions were compiled, two local experts also reviewed the questions.

The survey included 144 questions, with the majority being multiple choice. The questionnaire covered topics including mold, moisture, and respiratory health. For instance, questions pertaining to mold asked about visible mold, mold odor, water leaks, and damp spots. The time period was limited to the past 12 months.

In addition to moisture factors, the survey covered background information on the participants such as age, living situation (on campus housing, tenant, owner, etc.) income level, and household status. This was done to see if there was a correlation between housing factors and mold issues.

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The Results

Overall, the results of the survey showed that 36% of the participants had at least one sign of mold or dampness. The most common symptoms were excessive humidity, past water leaks, mold odor, and actual mold. This number is consistent with a general study of the Canadian population, so at first glance it would not appear that students are more at risk. However, as hypothesized, it appears that students often had characteristics prone to mold- lower income and living in older apartment buildings that needed renovations.

The results did show that there was a relationship between income level and moisture. If the annual family income was higher than $55,000 CAD, the student was less likely to have moisture problems, than a student with a family income of less than $15,000 CAD. It can be assumed that students with higher family incomes were living in newer apartments that were better maintained.

There was also a correlation between the conditions of the building and moisture problems. A higher percentage of moisture issues was present in older buildings that needed renovations and had multiple apartments (2-11 apartments). Furthermore, buildings without proper ventilation and not occupied by the landlord also increased the risk. In fact, moisture was twice as likely to be present in buildings where the landlord didn't live in the building. These characteristics would be more common for a lower income student looking for short term housing.

In addition, university owned accommodations showed a 24.8% prevalence for mold. While not as high as some other living situations, you can see how it might vary depending on the maintenance and upkeep of the dorms. It appears that most of the reported incidents can be blamed on older buildings or lack of upkeep. For instance, in the University of Kansas example mentioned earlier, it was an outdated air conditioning system. While the results of survey were subjective, it does appear to show that college students are often more at risk with their living situation.

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Beyer, Adam. "Mold runs rampant in colleges across the country." The Chronicle. The Chronicle, 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

"Evacuated Students Get Cruise Ship Rooms." NBC4 Washington. NBC4 Washington, 26 Oct. 2011. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

Lanthier-Veilleux, Mathieu, Mélissa Généreux, and Geneviève Baron. "Prevalence of Residential Dampness and Mold Exposure in a University Student Population." International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. MDPI, Feb. 2016. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.