East Wheelock mold exposure prompts students to relocate as College begins short-term remediation efforts

Students reported health effects, prompting some to move to the Boss Tennis Center or to hotels in Hanover.

by Adriana James-Rodil | 10/14/21 5:20am

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by Hannah Li / The Dartmouth

Updated 4:05 p.m., Oct. 15, 2021

The presence of mold — first identified in Andres Hall on Sept. 29 and later confirmed in other rooms in both Andres and Zimmerman Halls on Oct. 7 — has caused health concerns for students living in the East Wheelock residential cluster and prompted some of them to relocate to off-campus spaces. The College is taking remediation efforts to address the mold growth, it announced in an email to campus Friday.

The species of mold identified are primarily Penicillium and Cladosporium, but Acrodontium, Aspergillus and Ulocladium were also found, according to the email sent to campus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that “exposure to molds can lead to symptoms such as stuffy nose, wheezing, and red or itchy eyes, or skin” and that people with allergies or asthma “may have more intense reactions.”

Ethan Dixon ’24, who lived in Andres Hall 205 — where active mold growth was first discovered — at the beginning of the fall term, said he spotted black mold on the wall of his room when he first moved into Andres, which he later reported to the College. Even after the College sent staff to clean the room, Dixon said he still woke up several mornings with a sore throat, which prompted him to research side effects of mold exposure — many of which he was experiencing. 

Dixon contacted the College again and was subsequently sent to the Sixth South Street Hotel in late September for a weekend so that his room could be tested. The College initially concluded that there was no mold in the suite, so Dixon moved back in, but he said he was sent back to Sixth South Street a week later after an independent investigator “audited” the investigation and found traces of mold in his room after all. 

According to an email statement from College spokesperson Diana Lawrence, following an initial inspection that did not identify any mold, the College brought in an industrial hygienist from Woodard & Curran, an environmental consulting company, to conduct a more detailed inspection to be certain mold was not present. On Sept. 29, the presence of mold was confirmed through laboratory analysis.

The College first notified Andres and Zimmerman residents of active mold growth in Andres Hall on Oct. 1. After conducting subsequent inspections of selected suites in both Andres and Zimmerman on Oct. 5 and Oct. 6, the College confirmed the presence of mold in other rooms in Andres and Zimmerman on Oct. 7, Lawrence wrote. Associate vice president of facilities operations and management Frank Roberts informed Andres and Zimmerman residents on Oct. 8 that mold growth was identified in all 17 of the samples tested. The College discovered mold in the HVAC system, on a ceiling and on the caulking around a sink, in addition to finding mildew growing in private bathrooms. 

Students with mold sensitivities were able to relocate temporarily to the Boss Tennis Center over the weekend, beginning Friday afternoon. Hotel rooms were also made available on Sunday evening to stay in until the end of the week. In total, 19 students relocated, Lawrence wrote in an emailed statement Thursday evening. 

Isabella Hochschild ’25, who lived in Zimmerman Hall before relocating to the Hanover Inn last weekend, said she sent a picture of her room’s moldy ceiling to the College during its investigation. She said that she saw mold in the air conditioning units, bathrooms and shower curtains, adding that her health has been impacted by the mold.

“I’ve been coughing, and I’ve been super congested,” Hochschild said. “My eyes have been watering, and I didn’t know why. I thought I was allergic to something, and now it makes sense that it was the mold.”

In his Oct. 8 email, Roberts outlined “immediate mold remediation steps,” which include vacuuming the interior surfaces of each HVAC unit in Andres and Zimmerman with a high-efficiency particulate air vacuum, installing additional filtration and vacuuming each suite with a HEPA vacuum. Roberts wrote that the College will work with its consultants to develop further remediation plans for mold growth before the start of winter term in January. 

According to Lawrence, the College is still investigating what caused the mold issue in Andres and Zimmerman Halls’ HVAC units.

Roberts noted that students who feel comfortable living in Andres and Zimmerman can remain living there while the College cleans the HVAC and finishes its remediation efforts — which started on Tuesday and are expected to take eight to ten business days. 

On Sunday evening, the College organized a community gathering in Brace Commons to answer students’ questions. Hochschild said she learned at the gathering that the College will be remediating rooms beginning at the top floor of Andres and Zimmerman and working their way down to the first floor, where her room is. She added that she is only allowed to live in the Hanover Inn for five days and that mold in all rooms would be removed by the end of the week, but she has yet to be contacted by the facilities operations and management team regarding the remediation of her room. 

Dixon, who is now living in Hitchcock Hall, said he is unsure whether he will be able to move back into Andres this term.  

“No one in the housing offices [is] responding to me currently about when I’ll be able to be back in Andres,” Dixon said. “I’ve called them twice. I’ve emailed them, and every time I call them, they ask for my number and [say] we’ll give you a call back today, so I’m getting very annoyed.” 

Hochschild said that she knows a few people in her dorm with health conditions who have moved out. Marc Novicoff ’22, who lived in Zimmerman Hall, also moved to the Hanover Inn this week, although he added that he is not sure if his symptoms are connected to mold growth.  

“Like most people on campus, I got a cold at some point,” Novicoff said. “I really have no clue whether the mold played a role in that or whether the mold is making people sick, so I don’t really know whether I was affected or not. I guess there’s been this added benefit of getting [to be] in the Inn for a few days.” 

Novicoff said the discovery of mold in Andres and Zimmerman raises the question of whether mold could be impacting other residential spaces on campus.

“Being an East Wheelock resident, I think of myself as having some of the nicest dorms on campus, because they’re newer,” Novicoff said. “What is the state of housing [in] the rest of campus if East Wheelock has mold in it?”

According to the College’s mold remediation FAQ page, the HVAC units in Andres and Zimmerman Halls differ in both “age and design” compared to other HVAC systems on campus. In addition, most dorm buildings use windows for air circulation. The webpage continues that College staff are “planning an additional level of inspection in our other residential buildings over the next few weeks” and are “expanding our current mold protocols to include regularly scheduled checks of air handling units throughout all Dartmouth buildings.” 

Anyone who suspects that mold may be present in their dorm should contact residential operations so that the College can arrange an inspection, the page says. 

Despite the College’s remediation plans, Novicoff said he is disappointed to discover mold in his dorm room in the first place. 

“I’m insulted by the existence of mold in my living spaces and also in air vents,” he said. “It’s a problem that they should [have been] aware of, because it’s supposedly in every single room, so I guess that’s upsetting to me.”

This article has been updated to include the total number of students relocated. 

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