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Overview

Concerns about the potential for mold and mildew in college residence halls are not unusual. To help provide education and alleviate fears, we offer the following information and resources.  

National Resources 

Microbial Growth FAQs

Microbial Growth FAQs

FAQs

Molds are fungi and are part of the natural environment. They are found both indoors and outdoors and grow best in damp and humid conditions. Mold can be an air allergen similar to pollen, animal dander, dust and dust mites. Mold produces tiny spores, which act similarly as seeds of plants to spread the growth of the mold colony. Molds are microorganisms that are found virtually everywhere, indoors and outdoors.

For additional information see https://www.cdc.gov/mold/pib.htm.   

Molds are found almost everywhere; they can grow on any organic substance, as long as moisture and oxygen are present. Molds can grow on wood, paper, carpet, foods and insulation. When excessive moisture accumulates in buildings or on building materials, mold growth will often occur, particularly if the moisture problem remains undiscovered or unaddressed. It is impossible to eliminate all mold and mold spores in the indoor environment. However, mold growth can be controlled indoors by controlling moisture indoors.

See https://www.epa.gov/mold/mold-remediation-schools-and-commercial-buildings-guide. 

Thousands of species of mold, which occur naturally outside, will frequently have some spores present within buildings. Mold is usually white, green, black, yellow, brown or orange. The texture can have an appearance similar to powder, cotton, velvet or tar.

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Exposure to molds may not cause any problems for some or may result in a variety of symptoms for others. People sensitive to molds may experience nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing or wheezing, eye irritation or, rarely, skin irritation. People with asthma and/or mold allergies may have more severe reactions. 

It is not possible to predict what, if any, response a person might experience.

Many different molds may appear black and the coloring is not an indication of toxicity. Also, the CDC notes that the term “toxic mold” is not accurate. While some molds can produce toxins, the molds themselves are not toxic. Hazards presented by the rare molds that produce mycotoxins should be considered the same as other common molds which can grow in indoor environments. It is not necessary to identify the type of mold, as all molds should be treated the same with respect to potential health risks and removal.

 

  • Report any water problems (leaks behind a toilet or under sinks, dripping faucets, wet carpet, leak from a ceiling, etc.) immediately by using the maintenance request form.
  • Keep room air vents (where applicable) in all areas open and unobstructed to maintain proper airflow. 
  • Do not open windows during cooling or heating season. 
  • If you have a private bathroom, routinely clean it, including the shower curtain liner, with bathroom cleaner to prevent the growth of soap scum which is an excellent food source for mold. Always follow the directions and read all precautions before using any cleaning product. 
  • If a bath exhaust fan is provided in your living space, be sure to turn the fan on when showering. After your shower, keep the shower door closed and the fan running for an extra 15-20 minutes to remove excess moisture from the air. 
  • Do not hang towels (or any other wet items) to dry between your mattress and bed frame. This can cause mold to grow on the bottom of your mattress. 
  • Do not place wet items in an enclosed area (hampers, bags,etc.). 
  • Good housekeeping practices (vacuuming floors, wiping down counters, cleaning up spills quickly, wiping down refrigerators (including the doors), etc. should be shared by all residents to help reduce the number of food sources for mold growth. 

If mold is suspected on any indoor surface, it should be reported using the maintenance request form to be cleaned as soon as possible to limit further growth. 

In some cases, mold growth is due to poor cleaning habits and are the responsibility of occupants. Examples of this include: 

  • Maintaining refrigerators - Students are responsible for maintaining and cleaning the refrigerators in their rooms.  In particular, students should leave adequate time between defrosting and leaving before breaks to ensure that they wipe out the inside of the refrigerator. Failure to do so on a regular basis can result in mold growth inside or outside of the unit.  
  • Bathroom/shower areas ofsuites – JMU Housekeeping maintains and regularly cleans all common area showers in our traditional residence halls. The cleaning of shower and bathroom areas in Bluestone and the Apartments on Grace is the responsibility of the students that live there. If a bathroom is not accessible from a community hallway, (behind a locked door) it is the residents responsibility to maintain 

JMU staff will respond to all suspected mold and mildew reports. They will investigate and determine if there are any mechanical issues that need to be addressed and enter the necessary work orders to make repairs. Surface mold is typically cleaned with the appropriate fungicide during the initial investigation. If not during the initial investigation the area will be cleaned within 24 hours Monday – Friday, and within 48 hours Saturday and Sunday. The student and Residence Life will be notified once the cleaning is complete.

Our Facilities Maintenance staff provides routine maintenance of all buildings and carefully maintains the cooling and heating systems. This includes cleaning, maintaining and repairing HVAC equipment. All residence halls are cleaned by our trained housekeepers before the beginning of every academic year and when a room becomes completely vacant.

Any time there are concerns about the level of moisture in a space (typically seasonal), Facilities Maintenance staff will investigate and offer solutions to mitigate the issue. 

Unless you are allergic, mold and mildew are very unlikely to cause physical symptoms. According to the federal health and safety agencies referenced above, mold is commonly found in both indoor and outdoor environments. People who are sensitive to mold may experience short-term mild allergic reactions in the presence of mold. Symptoms associated with mold exposure are not unique and cannot be readily distinguished from symptoms caused by the common cold or allergies (seasonal and/or environmental). For more information on colds vs. allergies visit the Health Center self-care page: Health Center: Self-Care and ResourcesJMU. Since some may have more intense reactions, those who experience significant symptoms should consult with medical personnel regarding the likelihood that their symptoms are due to mold exposure. 

Before considering a move to another space on campus, you should visit the Health Center or your doctor to assess your situation and the likelihood that the symptoms you are experiencing are due to a mold or mildew allergy. If that is the case, please contact Residence Life at 540-568-HOME(4663) to learn more about options for temporary or permanent relocation to another on-campus residence hall location. 

Since mold is present in the indoor and outdoor air and on surfaces all around us, the University does not routinely conduct air sampling for mold and instead follows federal agency guidance as noted below: 

From the CDC: "Standards for judging what is an acceptable, tolerable, or normal quantity of mold have not been established" and "Generally it is not necessary to identify the species of mold growth in a residence, and CDC does not recommend routine sampling for molds. Current evidence indicates that allergies are the type of diseases most often associated with molds. Since the susceptibility of individuals varies greatly either because of the amount or type of mold, sampling and culturing are not reliable in determining your health risk... therefore, no matter what kind of mold is present, you should arrange for its removal."

( https://www.cdc.gov/mold/faqs.htm) 

From the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): “In most cases, if visible mold growth is present, sampling is unnecessary. Since no EPA or other federal limits have been set for mold or mold spores, sampling cannot be used to check a building's compliance with federal mold standards.”

( https://www.epa.gov/mold/mold-testing-or-sampling) 

At-home mold kits have been way over-marketed and are not worth the expense.  They can easily have their agar plates contaminated at any point, from store shelves through shipping/handling to the lab.  Given it is a passive sampling system, there is no way to determine how many colony forming units there were per volume of air.  Furthermore, they have been demonstrated to be woefully inaccurate, do not include a control or chain of custody, and aren’t analyzed by an accredited lab.

Microbial growth/Mold and mildew remediation is not regulated by the EPA or CDC. According to the EPA, mold cannot be eliminated in the environment unless extreme measures are taken constantly, as would be the case in a “clean room” laboratory. The presence of visible mold on indoor building materials is generally agreed by professionals to be an unacceptable condition that should be remediated as quickly as possible. Anytime that mold or mildew is suspected it should be reported using the maintenance request form.

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