Over 500 reports of mold in student housing filed since 2020, officials say

One of VCU’s freshmen dorms, Johnson Hall, was closed due to mold in November 2021 and has not reopened. Photo by Alessandro Latour

Jack Glagola, Contributing Writer

Gabriela de Camargo Gonçalves, Managing Editor

Over 530 work orders related to mold in student housing have been filed since 2020, according to the VCU Public Affairs office.

The records themselves were withheld from a Freedom of Information Act request from The Commonwealth Times due to the presence of identifying information. 

Most of the work orders were for kitchens and bathrooms — areas where water is present. These areas either contained no mold or the presence was “minor, addressed by cleaning, and did not raise health concerns.” 

On average, 21% of investigations over the time period of 2020 to 2022 uncovered some form of mold, according to VCU Public Affairs.

For minor cases of mold, additional cleaning and other steps were arranged.

Rashel Ferrufino, a first-year nursing student who lives in the Gladding Residence Center, said she suffers symptoms of mold exposure, such as a stuffy nose, coughing and sore throat alongside her roommate.

“We’re stuffy in the morning, sometimes throughout the day,” Ferrufino said. “Some mornings we wake up and our throats hurt — but we didn’t do anything beforehand.”

Ferrufino said the symptoms only showed up while on campus. 

“We’re fine when we go back to our hometowns, but it’s here that we feel like crap,” Ferrufino said.

Johnson Hall is the oldest VCU dorm with its establishment dating back to 1913 and has gone through renovations dating back to at least 2013, according to a Commonwealth Times article reporting on the hall’s back-to-back renovations.

Johnson was shut down for the remainder of the 2021 academic year due to “elevated mold levels,” according to a release from VCU Student Affairs. 

The closure was later extended indefinitely; the ultimate fate of the building remains unclear. 

The dorm is currently not open for housing applications for the spring 2023 semester.

VCU has not addressed any issues with Johnson since an update from November 2021. 

The update states VCU sent rehousing assignments to the students that were living in the dorm at the time. There is no information by the university on where they were sent to; however, students could be found living throughout buildings on campus, including the 8 ½ Canal Street apartment complex, Gladding Residence Center lounge areas and Brandt Hall.

The additional information listed on the update leads to a “page not found” update.

“I’m afraid we don’t have any information to share at this time about Johnson Hall. VCU is evaluating its options,” Brian McNeill, the university’s director of public affairs, stated in an email.

Before and since the closure, mold and general air quality have been persistent topics of discussion among VCU students — especially freshmen residing in dormitories on campus. 

Marley Ferraro, a first-year nursing student and Brandt Hall resident, said she did not encounter her symptoms outside of student housing. 

“As soon as I go home, my nose clears up. I come back, I’m sick again,” Ferraro said. 

Gabby Stinnett, a first-year forensic science student, recalled having her shower in Brandt Hall repaired, and the maintenance team discovering mold. 

“They opened the ceiling and there was mold everywhere,” Stinnett said.

What is often called “mold” or “mildew” are fungi that grow and thrive in moist conditions. They release spores, which can cause a variety of symptoms including a sore throat, stuffy nose, coughing, or skin rash.

The spores can induce severe reactions in individuals with asthma or mold allergies, and immunocompromised people can be susceptible to lung infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Indoor mold can be controlled by reducing the amount of moisture, or humidity, in the air. Running the air conditioner during humid months, keeping bathrooms clean, and frequently cleaning fabrics kept in moist areas — such as bathroom rugs — can stop mold from proliferating, according to the CDC.

Mold also grows outside, and in the fall and winter months, seasonal allergies can be triggered by mold after pollen season has ended, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

It doesn’t help that Richmond is consistently ranked as one of the worst cities for seasonal allergy and asthma sufferers, according to the AAFA. 

Elizabeth Nguyen, a first-year medical laboratory science student and Ferrufino’s roommate, wasn’t sure if the two were feeling sick because of the air quality or some other reason. 

“We’re assuming that because we live here 90% of the time,” Nguyen said.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Students look for housing as spring semester reaches final stretch The Commonwealth Times
  2. VCU releases its 2021-22 fiscal year report The Commonwealth Times

Leave a Reply