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More than 400 UT students have received new housing assignments and many have begun moving out of Laurel Hall after it was announced earlier this month that mold found in the building would require the building’s closure to fully and effectively remediate. About a dozen students are waiting for their assignments and should have those in the next few days.

More than 100 students opted out of continuing their University Housing contracts.

“This has been a difficult transition for the residents of Laurel Hall. We appreciate their patience as we have worked through the details of finding new apartments and getting all of the resources and services in place,” said Chandra Myrick, executive director of University Housing. “We are continuing to work with our campus partners and external groups to ensure we are doing all that we can for the students who still need to move out of Laurel Hall.”

The university has currently contracted with five apartment complexes to house affected students, as well as placing some students in other residence halls on campus.

UT contracted with Environmental Air Quality Professionals Inc. and Assured Bio to collect and analyze surface and air samples from rooms within Laurel Hall to determine the scope of mold spores present in the building.

EAQP has completed its limited environmental investigation of Laurel Hall and the testing of other residence halls on campus.

Due to the types and amount of fungi present in Laurel Hall, EAQP’s recommendation is to clean and remediate all apartments after the students have been relocated to another area, confirming the intitial assessment by University Housing to close the building. The information obtained through the analysis of samples provides the basis for Laurel Hall’s remediation plan to be performed by Belfor Property Restoration, an independent contractor that specializes in microbial remediation.

According to Assured Bio’s Edward Sobek, a specialist in microbial and chemical issues affecting buildings, there are currently no national guidelines or standards for the acceptable number of mold spores present in indoor air. The industry standard for professionals is to compare samples collected from the interior of a building to the outside control sample.

Key data points from the Laurel Hall report include:

  • Samples were collected in 46 of the 313 apartments. The sample size—15 percent—is representative and statistically significant of the total number of apartments in the building, according to Sobek.
  • EAQP collected surface and air samples and found that:
    • 56.5 percent of surface samples collected in the 46 rooms tested positive for mold.
    • 87.2 percent of all air samples collected in the 46 rooms showed levels of mold that are elevated when compared to outdoor air samples collected at the same time.
  • A microscopic analysis of surface and air samples showed Aspergillus- and Penicillium-like spores. These are round-shaped mold spores of about 2–5 micrometers in size.

According to Sobek, although most people can breathe in mold spores of the Aspergillus and Penicillium genera without experiencing any health effects, scientific literature does link mold to some health issues, particularly of the upper respiratory system.

The people most likely to have reactions to mold exposure are those with pre-existing conditions including asthma and allergic rhinitis, and those undergoing immunosuppressive treatments. For others that are sensitive to mold, exposure can lead to respiratory symptoms such as stuffy nose, wheezing, coughing, chest congestion, and red or itchy eyes or skin.

Housing staff have been working with several students with health concerns and arranged special accommodations for them as needed.

Additionally, Sobek noted that mid-August to late September is mold season. This September was the fourth-hottest September on record. High temperatures and humidity levels contribute to the propagation of mold.

Testing of Other Residence Halls

To determine whether the seasonal conditions were affecting other residence halls, the university began air quality testing in the remaining 11 residence halls and collected 367 samples.

The two types of tests conducted were for Aspergillus and Penicillium—the types found in Laurel that can cause respiratory symptoms—and for Stachybotrys chartarum—often called black mold.

Based on the analysis, the university has no plans to relocate residents in any of these residence halls. Students who have concerns about their rooms should submit an online maintenance request with University Housing.

Key results from the testing in the other residence halls include:

  • Testing of other residence halls indicated seven rooms among the 367 tested with elevated levels of Aspergillus and Penicillium when compared to outdoor air samples. Those rooms were in Reese Hall, Hess Hall, North Carrick Hall, Massey Hall, and Clement Hall.
  • In four rooms of the 367 tested, Stachybotrys chartarum was detected in the air at a low level. Those rooms were in Brown Hall, North Carrick Hall, and Stokely Hall. Of the 367 rooms tested, two rooms in Reese Hall registered elevated levels of the Stachybotrys chartarum spores compared to levels found in outdoor air samples collected at the same time.
  • A retest of Reese Hall showed Stachybotrys chartarum was not detectable.
  • Housing staff are in the process of reinspecting all rooms that showed elevated levels.

To learn more about possible health effects of mold, visit the CDC website and Mayo Clinic websites.

Related: South Carrick Hall analysis report and South Carrick control room data

CONTACT:

Katherine Saxon (865-974-8365, ksaxon@utk.edu)