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'Everyone is coughing': Mold in dorms prompts University of Maryland to move students to hotels

The University of Maryland is putting students up in College Park hotels after mold was reported in some dormitories and several students said it has made them sick.

Mold was found “throughout Elkton Hall, as well as isolated reports in other residence halls, and the issue has been exacerbated by recent weather conditions,” the school’s Department of Resident Life told students and families.

The more than 500 mostly freshman students living in Elkton are being relocated temporarily to hotels to allow contractors to clean every room in the eight-story building, floor-by-floor.

The mold problems further compound campus housing issues at the university where about 2,000 students live without air conditioning and the school needed to add beds to some rooms and convert lounges into dorm rooms to accommodate about 350 extra students this year.

A university spokeswoman declined to make anyone available for an interview Monday about the mold problems because all the staff members involved were “working diligently to remediate the situation.”

In an email to students late last week, the Department of Resident Life said university staff is working around the clock to remediate the mold.

“We have taken many steps to address the issue; including hiring contractors who specialize in mold remediation, installing commercial-grade dehumidifiers in floor hallways, conducting inspections of rooms that have reported service requests, cleaning all surfaces, and cleaning or replacing furniture,” according to the email.

Mold exposure can lead to eye irritation, cold symptoms, coughing and congestion, skin rashes and the aggravation of asthma.

The most common symptoms include allergy and hay fever-like symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes and a sore throat, said Jim Keilson, who owns Maryland Home Inspection Services. But more severe reactions can cause respiratory issues and even death.

“It’s a wide spectrum based on someone’s individual immune system,” he said.

A spokesman for Prince George’s County said the local health department might launch an investigation to ensure the student housing was mold-free, but he wasn’t certain.

In a Sept. 19 email Maryland facilities staff sent students in dorms across campus, they said they’d been receiving reports of mold on dorm furniture and other bedroom surfaces. They blamed the heavy rains and hot temperatures, which led to increased humidity levels inside the aging dorm buildings.

Staff encouraged students to report any mold spotting, and said they would respond to issues as they were received.

Then, late Friday night, Maryland facilities staff sent another update, informing Elkton Hall residents that they would be moved floor-by-floor to hotels to enable a full-scale scrub down of the building.

Students began relocating Sunday night — capping off Parents’ Weekend, a weekend of special events geared toward students’ families that took place Sept. 21-23.

The relocated students are being spread among three nearby hotels: The Cambria, The Hotel at the University of Maryland, and the College Park Marriott.

Some students are expected to be living in hotels until early October. The university spokeswoman said the school does not yet know how much it will cost to house students at hotels.

Freshman Anne Ziolkowski said she’s happy to have been relocated but is frustrated it took the university so long to take her complaints seriously.

She spotted mold during the first weekend of September. Facilities staff came and wiped down the blinds and air-conditioning unit, she said.

Her mother bought a dehumidifier to try to keep the nasty spores from returning, but the mold ultimately came back anyway, invading her drawers and ruining some of her clothes, she said.

“We’ve been dealing with this all month,” said Ziolkowski, 18. “They finally took action after Parents’ Weekend.”

Ziolkowski often paused to cough while describing her experience with the mold. She was diagnosed with bronchitis last week, and her doctor told her that the mold was to blame, she said.

Many of her friends have similar symptoms: infections, persistent coughs, exacerbated asthma.

“Everyone in my hall is sick,” she said. “Everyone is coughing.”

The housing situation at Maryland has become a hot button issue among students this school year. The brutal early September heat wave left the 2,000 students in dorms without air-conditioning sweltering in their rooms.

Some ditched their bedrooms, instead seeking refuge in cooler multipurpose rooms and lounges, sleeping next to fans on university-provided mattresses. Students at Goucher College had similar options when dealing with the “code red” heat earlier this month.

Housing is already limited in College Park, due to a larger-than-expected freshmen class enrolling at the state flagship. The university squeezed an extra 350 students into campus housing this fall by adding extra beds to double and triple rooms, and converting dormitory lounges into dorm rooms.

Students living on campus say they deserve better than what’s been provided them this semester.

Shannon Cleary, 18, has been using an inhaler since last week. She’s missed classes both due to being sick and to move out of her dorm room, she said.

Cleary also found mold on her blinds right around Labor Day. She told facilities staff, who cleaned it up and told her that she and her roommate should be fine going forward.

But when Cleary looked around her room afterward, she found even more mold — it covered the bottom of her desk and her bed. It was under every drawer, and in her roommate’s closet.

“It shouldn't be our job to go and find it,” she said. “I would've hoped that after we first reported it, they would've looked around and found out that we had mold in all those other places.”

Cleary lives on the sixth floor of Elkton, which means she isn’t scheduled to be moved to a hotel until Friday. Residents on the top two floors moved Sunday, and the rest are staggered over the next two weeks.

Cleary said she’s lucky other friends have allowed her to sleep in their hotel rooms, so she doesn’t have to spend another week in her dorm’s conditions.

“It’s gross,” she said. “It’s just not comfortable.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Christina Tkacik contributed to this article.

trichman@baltsun.com

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