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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mold Found in South Carolina Dorm Rooms

The University of South Carolina is working to eliminate a mold infestation from a 73-year-old dorm that forced some students out of their rooms.

Students began noticing mold forming in some Sims dorm rooms two weeks ago, and the school reacted with letters to parents, inspections and testing.

After getting test results, three of the dorm’s 117 rooms required enough cleaning to move six students to new housing, USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. Another nine students with histories of respiratory ailments have chosen to leave Sims, he said.

The school has no plans to move any more of the dorm’s 219 remaining students since cleanup should eliminate the mold, Hickman said. Once cleaned, contaminated rooms could be used again, he said.

But some parents are concerned about the health effects from the mold.

“She was exposed to something that we might not see until much later,” said Lynn McKenzie of Atlanta, whose daughter has been fighting a persistent cough since her first weekend on campus. “It’s not making me comfortable for her to continue living there.”

McKenzie said her daughter never suffered a respiratory ailment before moving into Sims last month. Hickman said the campus health center has not seen a rise in respiratory cases.

Still, McKenzie and Jon Bennett, another parent with a daughter in Sims, want to know if the school has a backup plan to house students.

“If they have to move them into hotel rooms so they can be assured of being safe, the university should do it,” said Bennett of Alpharetta, Ga. “They don’t need to be focusing on, ‘I’m going to get sick.’ They need to focus whether they will pass their next psych test.”

Sims along with the two other dorms that make up the Women’s Quad are slated to undergo a major $27 million renovation this summer. Hickman said the school is not basing repair decisions on the impending makeover.

“The health and safety of the students are the university’s primary concerns,” he said.

Parents and students complained Sims was excessively humid when classes started. Resident assistants recommended students have dehumidifiers.

McKenzie said the dorm smelled musky when she arrived. Jon Bennett’s daughter, Rachel, said her room was so moist that towels did not dry and shoes felt wet. She recently found mold on her clothes in her hamper and will throw them away.

USC offered to pay for dry cleaning and replacing damaged clothing. The school said it reacted quickly to mold complaints with inspections, independent-lab testing and cleaning. Two emails were sent to parents and meetings were held with students.

Kirsten Kennedy, USC’s executive director of university housing, wrote in an email that broken fiberglass pipe insulation in several closets along with “excessive rains” led to higher than normal humidity levels in the dorm. That mixed with the “organic fibers from clothing and other sources” to form the mold, she said.

Kennedy wrote that health officials told her “these molds are considered common allergens in our area of the country and exist in most commercial and residential buildings to some degree.”

Less than 9 percent of the rooms, which would be about 10, required unspecified “additional attention,” Kennedy wrote.

Despite assurances the rooms will be cleaned, some parents and students remain uneasy about Sims.

“Who knows what I’m breathing in,” Rachel Bennett said. “I don’t want to be stuck with moldy room all year.”

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