Verbum Ultimum: Break the Mold

The recent discovery of mold in dormitories calls into question what other health hazards Dartmouth might be overlooking.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/15/21 3:30am

Last Friday, in a campus-wide email, Interim Dean of the College Scott Brown announced the discovery of significant mold growth in the Andres and Zimmerman residence halls, informing the community that students with a “health sensitivity” to mold  had been given the option to relocate to temporary housing, first in the Boss Tennis Center and, starting Sunday, in a “limited number of hotel rooms in the area.” The email also noted that mold “remediation” efforts, which include the vacuuming of interior surfaces of each HVAC unit with a high-efficiency particulate vacuum and the installation of additional filtration, have already begun in Andres and Zimmerman and that additional inspections will occur in other residential buildings throughout the next few weeks. In addition, the College announced that, moving forward, it will expand its mold protocols to include regular checks of air handling units in all Dartmouth buildings.

These announced remediation steps are necessary — and even somewhat encouraging. The College’s decision to set up a website with a litany of FAQs and to make all of its communications on the matter public is admirable, and a notable departure from their opaque handling of, say, COVID-19 guidelines last year. We believe in credit where credit is due, so, accordingly, kudos to the College for its transparency. Keep it up. 

With that said, the sheer amount of mold uncovered — growth was identified in all 17 air handlers tested in Andres and Zimmerman — calls into question just how long current and past residents of Andres and Zimmerman have been exposed to these toxins. Needless to say, the presence of mold in living spaces poses serious health risks to students, particularly to those who live with asthma, serious allergies or compromised immune systems. In interviews with The Dartmouth, residents of Andres and Zimmerman have already complained of allergy and other symptoms, including congestion, watery eyes and lingering coughs. 

While the College’s announcements of its plans to expand mold protocols and inspect all residential buildings are positive developments, they beg an important question: Why were these checks not not already a part of the College’s dorm maintenance regimen? The fact that the College appears to have lacked a robust mold testing plan is more than a little alarming and leaves one wondering what other health hazards Dartmouth may be overlooking.

As it stands, mold is not the only dormitory health hazard that Dartmouth seems to have neglected. Just last month, The Dartmouth reported on the substandard living conditions at two living learning communities on campus, La Casa and the Sustainable Living Center. Students living in these spaces, which are currently undergoing renovations, have recently reported being exposed to an array of environmental hazards, including “broken or screenless windows, mice, and exposed wires” as well as excessive dust, paint fumes, and loud construction noise. Due to the ongoing construction, the residents of La Casa and the SLC have also been left without a functional kitchen, working laundry machines, bathrooms with locks, showerheads and power outlets. 

As has become apparent over the last couple of weeks, Dartmouth has fallen far short of meeting the basic responsibility it has to provide all students with a safe living and learning environment. If Dartmouth’s administration is as serious about prioritizing well-being of its students as it has claimed, it may want to consider providing them with at least marginally habitable housing. In the short term, this will mean supporting and accommodating the students that it has housed in hazardous environments — and no, simply shipping them to a tennis court in the middle of the term doesn’t cut it.  

The living conditions in Dartmouth’s residential facilities also underscore — as so many things seem to — the urgent need for the College to address its current housing crisis something this Editorial Board has argued for numerous times. Once Dartmouth builds more dorms, bribing students to live off campus will no longer be necessary, and, critically, overflow housing will become available, making it easier for Dartmouth to conduct routine repairs, construction and upkeep of facilities without upending students' lives.

While we applaud the College for being transparent with its recent discovery of mold, the fact remains that this health hazard — along with the other examples of abysmal living conditions — should have been caught and addressed long ago. Let’s put that now-$8.5 billion endowment to use and take more action to improve the place we students call home. 

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.

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