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Vanderbilt University students want growing concern over mold taken seriously

Vandy Mold.jpg
Posted at 5:42 PM, Apr 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-08 17:45:39-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Students at Vanderbilt University said something must be done after once again discovering dangerous mold growing in their dorms.

Many have complained of health issues over the years, and now they’re calling on the university for a more permanent solution to mold that keeps coming back.

It’s been a few months since Benjamin Bryce first notified other students living in the Morgan House dorms of what he discovered from the pipes in his room. Bryce serves as a residential advisor (RA) and said this all began after noticing how hard it was to breathe. Bryce said he took COVID tests that all came back negative.

“I went back home for a break and my symptoms got better. I started to feel better. I could breathe easier, and my sore throat went away,” Bryce said.

Bryce searched for what else could’ve triggered his breathing problems, and that’s when he noticed black spots surrounding the pipes in his room. He discovered other students had the same issue.

He sent samples to a lab that later confirmed the presence of mold. Bryce shared his findings with students who now began running their tests.

For weeks, Bryce said he would contact Vanderbilt administrators only to hear nothing in return. He said by then, students began complaining of everything from shortness of breath to eczema breakouts.

Maya Reddy said she was sick all last semester with an illness her doctors couldn’t figure out. She said doctors never ruled out the mold as the reason.

“I think that if it was my choice to live there then maybe things would be different, but right now Vanderbilt is my landlord, and they’re not doing anything about this issue,” Reddy said.

Bryce invited NewsChannel 5 Investigates to the Morgan House dorms as his guests. We were joined by Victor Griffith of Breathe Easy Mold, who agreed to test three rooms on the station's behalf.

The 22-year veteran didn’t see much at first but soon noticed what was on the pipes.

“This portion right in here has molded,” Griffith said.

He got closer to the black substance.

"It looks like it’s been cleaned up also, and then it started to grow back,” Griffith said.

What NewsChannel 5 Investigates couldn’t see was left up to a device that tested for mold particles in the air. We ran an air quality test inside the room and compared it to what you would normally find outside the building.

Our tests identified the black substance on the pipes as Stachybotrys mold. It’s one of the more common molds out there, but it can also be one of the more dangerous if not properly removed. Griffith concluded that there was not an alarming level of mold in the air quality tests.

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because discovering mold in these older buildings is nothing new for the university. Students have been reporting mold issues since at least 2008.

After reports of mold at five different dorms in 2014, Vanderbilt inspected more than 500 rooms. School officials declared the mold was not an emergency and went ahead with the cleanup.

In 2019, one student reported she developed a cough so bad she injured her back. Tests determined there was mold growing in the McTyeire and Blakemore dorms. Mold later resurfaced at the McTyeire dorm in 2021.

Bryce said it’s even more important that students feel safe on campus, especially when you consider that Vanderbilt undergrads are required to live on campus.

“I feel bad that we have to require help from outside, but Vanderbilt University has done so little to show that they’re committed to taking this seriously and rectifying it,” Bryce said.

We sent these results to Vanderbilt, and they later responded.

"We have remediated all rooms in Morgan and Lewis House Apartments, where a mold-related issue has been reported and performed follow-up testing. Results indicate that there was not and is not currently any indoor air quality concern regarding airborne mold in these rooms. We continue to encourage students to report any maintenance issues, so we can quickly respond to any areas with possible mold growth. Vanderbilt has committed to providing safe and healthy residential spaces for our students to live and learn. Part of that commitment relies on our students to report issues through Vanderbilt’s work management system so we can fix problems that arise."

Vanderbilt University went on to explain their process for mold remediation:

“When the university receives a report of mold, our personnel follow established protocols based on the standard of care for mold remediation and guidance provided by the on-staff industrial hygienist. First, the space is inspected to locate mold and understand its cause. Second, remediation is performed to remove the mold damage and address the underlying cause of the water or condensation. Third, the space is remediated in accordance with best practices, including the use of an EPA-registered antimicrobial to eliminate and prevent mold, and an industrial-grade HEPA filter while the work is completed to remove any fine particles. As necessary, we will also have environmental testing conducted by an unaffiliated lab to test air quality after the mold has been remediated. Testing air quality through an accredited lab is the industry-accepted standard for assessing whether airborne mold levels suggest a fungal problem indoors, when compared to outdoor testing results. Indoor results also are assessed for any significant elevation of individual mold species. The goal of testing is to ensure that the remediation efforts were successful or if further investigation is warranted.”

As for students, Vanderbilt staff left a letter on Reddy’s door the day after NewsChannel 5 Investigates notified the school that we tested her room.

The letter requested that she and her roommate evacuate the room for up to three hours while they clean “affected areas.”

“My roommate told me she thought it was a scam. She thought someone posted that on our door trying to rob us because it was so confusing,” Reddy said.

Part of the confusion was because the letter never explained what they had to clean or why they went to her room in the first place.

Reddy was out of town at the time and returned to find they had already cleaned.

“The first thing that went through my head was a complete violation of privacy. I felt invaded like the university had sent somebody into my room that I hadn’t requested to be there,” Reddy said.

Reddy did know that we had submitted her test results to the university but says she expected school officials to at least acknowledge the presence of mold first.

They could clean the entire building, but Vanderbilt said students must make their maintenance requests. They’ve responded to 21 out of the 240 rooms between the Morgan and Lewis dorms.

So far they’ve yet to find any issues with mold in the air, but we do know that some problems hide better than others.

“My suspicion is the mold we saw today could potentially be in every dorm, and it could be way worse in others that we haven’t seen,” Bryce said.

Reddy says the best way to hold Vanderbilt accountable is notifying perspective students and parents.

“Those are the people that are going to make a difference, because that is what Vanderbilt cares about,” Reddy said.

Griffith says cleaning the mold could be relatively simple if done right the first time. He says insulation over the drop ceiling or more insulation around the pipes would stop the condensation and end the mold growth.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Vanderbilt about specific remediation efforts, but they say it's up to students to report these issues and they will be handled on a case-by-case basis.