Those of us at Change the Air Foundation are dedicated to empowering the world to achieve better health by addressing an overlooked, yet critical aspect of ongoing wellness: indoor air quality. Far too many people suffer from chronic symptoms due to toxic indoor environments packed full of contaminants such as mold, bacteria, mycotoxins, and other harmful particles. One increasingly prevalent issue is not in the home or workplace but where we are sending the next generation of young minds: college and university dorms. 

As the research conducted by Michael Rubino, Change the Air Foundation President and Co-Founder, shows, this has indeed become a health epidemic. 

“I’ve found that a lot of college dorms have issues with mold, which led to a lot of media coverage over the past few years. But we still have a lot of work to do to bring awareness to this topic,” Rubino said in an interview with PIX11.  

We’re currently facing a nationwide failure to accept and address the growing health crisis caused by mold in college dorms. This issue is slowly gaining traction throughout the media, student bodies, and parenting groups. Yet it has still not received the widespread attention it deserves for impacting the health and education of a growing number of students across the country.

Instead of focusing on their degrees and beginning the next chapter of their lives, students are battling chronic symptoms due to the toxicity in their living spaces. This scenario is the exact situation those of us at Change the Air are dedicated to addressing and resolving. 

Just How Prevalent is Mold in College Dorms?

With the lack of attention dedicated to the health impact of mold exposure, it’s difficult to determine just how many instances of toxic dorms there have been in the last few decades. That being said, a massive number of schools are rapidly making their way onto the current list of universities with indoor mold growth issues. And there’s no discrepancy in which schools develop a problem and which do not.

Public vs private and four-year vs two-year play no role in this indoor contaminant’s agenda. Any campus dorm is on the docket for potentially hazardous areas for students with poor indoor air quality. It’s the ultimate equal-opportunity event.

Just a few examples include: 

Vanderbilt University 2022: Students in five different dorms discovered mold in over 240 rooms. Stachybotrys was among the species found. Several reported feeling chronically ill after moving into the rooms.  

Arizona State University 2022: Dozens of families attribute their children’s chronic illness to mold issues in dorms around campus. Independent testing from the families found several species of mold in the rooms, including in air vents.

Penn State University 2021: Multiple students alerted campus housing staff that mold was growing on their belongings, walls, and underneath beds in the dorms. Many developed chronic symptoms after moving into the room. 

Harvard University 2019: Students in Dunster campus housing were relocated to temporary accommodations after discovering an outbreak of mold.

Dartmouth College 2021: Students found mold in multiple dorm rooms across campus and reported adverse health effects that persisted even after the rooms were cleaned. The college discovered mold in the HVAC system, ceilings, caulking, and bathrooms.

Why is Mold in College Dorms Becoming So Common?

To begin growing, mold typically requires two components: food and a moisture source. Bacteria, another common indoor contaminant, thrive in similar conditions. Several issues are leading to these two elements being in abundance in college dorms and offering the ideal conditions for contaminants like mold to develop. 

A few common issues leading to mold in college dorms include:

  • Burst pipes, leaks, and other moisture-intrusion scenarios 

  • Flooding 

  • High humidity indoors 

  • Lack of ventilation in kitchens and bathrooms 

  • Aging HVAC systems, pipes, caulk, grout, and plumbing

  • Improper building maintenance, such as HVAC system servicing, failure to comb through the building for water-damaging issues, and not hiring inspectors to assess the space regularly

  • Lack of cleaning

  • Inadequate air quality measures

mold in college dorms

The result is mold on ceilings, vents, bathrooms, HVAC systems, student belongings, and a variety of other surfaces in the living space. Because college students spend so much time in their rooms sleeping, studying, and relaxing, this toxic environment has the potential to wreak havoc on their health. And, as the stories above show, it is impacting their well-being.

While students are expected to experience some stress related to course load and navigating life away from home, dealing with wellness problems caused by where they’re living is not a piece of this college experience.

Bringing Greater Awareness to Mold in College Dorms

One of the leading causes of this health epidemic is a general lack of awareness and consideration when it comes to creating healthy indoor environments for students that aren’t suffering from contamination. Tack on the lack of regulations and laws regarding indoor mold growth and it’s created the current situation we’re faced with now: chronically ill students across the world.

A lack of proactive prevention from universities is a part of the problem, but another main obstacle students are facing is schools’ failure to respond appropriately to this contamination.

Many of the articles linked above showcase how frequently situations of indoor mold growth are not addressed correctly. 

A few examples include: 

  • Lack of proper remediation practices that address the contamination and resolve the issue that led to the growth in the first place 

  • Failure to treat the situation promptly and as a genuine health risk to the student

  • Improper inspections to determine the extent of the contamination issue

  • Absence of containment during remediation, leading to particles spreading across the space and on student belongings

  • Not decontaminating student belongings after remediation or replacing affected items  

The list can go on, but universities and colleges are not educated on how to handle contamination situations that arrive. When this is combined with a lack of understanding about how to properly prevent water damage and create safer air quality, it's a recipe for disaster for students across the country.

How Can Students Prevent Mold in College Dorms?

Mold prevention is probably not high on any student’s to-do list, but it absolutely should be. The more steps students can take to reduce opportunities for mold to grow, the healthier these indoor spaces will be.

Preventative steps can include:

  • Creating daily and deep cleaning schedules and sticking to them

  • Using proper cleaning products, including EPA-approved botanical cleaners, HEPA vacuums, and microfiber towels

  • Wiping up any spills asap

  • Not letting wet clothing, towels, or umbrellas sit around- hang them up to dry thoroughly

  • Getting an air purifier to regularly remove particles from the indoor air- make sure it will actually remove these small particles and eliminate them all of the time, not just some of the time

  • Maintaining indoor humidity levels of 35-50% 

  • Keeping windows and doors closed when the AC is on

  • Turning on the exhaust fans while showering and if possible, crack a window or door

  • Investing in dehumidifiers for the bathroom if there are no exhaust fans/the humidity just will not go down or ask for the university to provide one (make sure to regularly clean these!)

  • Cleaning the window AC unit regularly

  • Not frequently fluctuating the temperature in the room (this can lead to condensation)

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a great start toward creating a healthier and safer indoor space. From there, it’s up to the campus to mitigate mold problems.

mold in college dorms

Our Next Move

With college students immersed in figuring out this next chapter of their lives, battling the effects of toxic living conditions should not interfere with their success. Their sleep, academic performance, and extracurricular activities can all be affected by this situation. It’s time for change to occur and for higher education institutions to consider this health hazard when it comes to protecting their tuition-paying students. 

Creating better awareness, consulting with experts, and drafting proper protocols should be at the top of this year’s agenda for colleges and universities worldwide. Those of us at Change the Air Foundation are working hard to help provide these resources and encourage change so that students are no longer the victims of exposure to these toxic spaces.

Click here to join us in advocating for change and continuing to shine a light on this health epidemic.