SALEM — A Salem State University student is raising concerns about mold in rooms of the Bates Complex on South Campus after she says the on-campus apartment she and her roommates had lived in for about a month was found to have mold growing in the upstairs bathroom.

A room downstairs was also found to have mold.

The five roommates first learned that their room might have mold over a week ago, and after the university and crews responded, they and another group of students who lived below them were moved to new apartments. 

A university spokesperson said the two apartments were "tested, cleaned and retested," and that students will not return to them until they are deemed safe.

"We are very frustrated by the way the school is handling the issue," said Summer Pearson, 20, of Worcester, in a message on Facebook, which was emailed to The Salem News.

She and three of her five roommates were interviewed and expressed concerns about the inability to get swift answers about mold in unit 13D in Building 13. 

The young women have since been moved to another apartment in the Bates Student Housing Complex on Harrison Road, which houses 360 juniors and seniors in 60 six-person apartments, according to the university's website. Townhouse apartments consist of rooms on two levels.

"Not only have we been living in that condition for a month, we have been denied meetings and information. My roommates and I have been advocating for ourselves and have been shut down and treated like we are children," she said.

'Don't want it to happen to others'

The young women said they like the set up of their rooms, and are fond of the university and their professors. But, they were unhappy that they had been placed in a room that had mold in the first place. And, they did not like the runaround they were given looking for answers.

"My take on all of this, as much as I love this university, is it has been extremely frustrating and the reason why we are reaching out is because we don't want it to happen to others again," said roommate Mallory McFadden, 20, of Woburn, a junior. Roommate Ashleigh Tedstone, 20, of Hudson echoed those sentiments.

The university says it has taken the students' issues seriously.

"Students were immediately offered opportunities to move to comparable apartments after mold was reported in two units," said Nicole Giambusso, the university's director of public relations, in an email.

"Some students accepted the offer to move last week and others this week," Giambusso said. "The two apartments have been tested, cleaned and retested, and the students will not be allowed to return to these units until testing confirms that they are safe. Student life and facilities have been working closely with the students from the beginning and will provide ongoing support. We are not aware of any other reports of mold on campus at this time."

According to a mold assessment report done after the rooms were cleaned by occupational health and safety and environmental consultant OccuHealth Inc. of Mansfield: "Based on observed conditions and laboratory results, OHI concludes that airborne mold levels are amplified above normal ranges in (the downstairs unit) and the upstairs bathroom of unit 13D. Mold growth that was visible on the ceilings of both rooms appears to have been successfully remediated which is supported by both surface sampling and visual inspection."

'Amplified mold levels' 

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, Pearson and her roommates became concerned about mold when students living downstairs alerted them to it, according to her post.

When they moved in, they thought the mold in their upstairs bathroom was due to past water damage, Pearson said.

The roommates reached out to the graduate resident director, who asked them if they wanted to move that night, but they declined, Pearson said.

The next day, according to Pearson, maintenance and facility crews came in to take air and mold samples. The students were told they would have results the next day, and that people would arrive to clean the bathroom.

Last Friday, Pearson said cleaners with masks shut down the bathroom, but the students did not receive test results, she said. Then, she said, the door was unsealed and their items were put back into the bathroom. A few hours later, they were told not to go in the bathroom, and to put a note on the door not to use it.

On Monday, workers wearing masks came back, Pearson said. They heard nothing official on Tuesday.

The post remediation mold assessment states that mold growth was observed on the ceiling of the bathroom on Sept. 26, and visible mold growth was removed the next day. The consultant checked the room again on Sept. 30. 

The consultant recommended further evaluation, and that people should not live in the apartments until more is known and more cleaning is done.

"Reoccupancy of the rooms will be recommended when the source and cause of the amplified mold levels is understood and controlled," the report said. 

One type of mold found above normal levels is usually associated with decaying plants and wood and are sometimes found indoors, the report stated. These types of mold have allergenic properties, but generally pose no health concerns. The source of the mold is unknown.

The report found something strange in that the airborne mold spore levels increased after the unoccupied rooms had been cleaned. Surface mold was not detected in either of the rooms after the rooms had been remediated.

On Wednesday, Pearson said she and her roommates ran around campus looking for answers. The upshot was the students moved into a new room on Wednesday at 10 p.m. which was a late hour and inconvenient time. They said the incident has also led them to miss some classes and caused them stress trying to get answers.

The university did provide them with $100 each for incidentals related to the temporary move for expenses such as food and laundry, Giambusso said.

Awaiting final report on mold

Pearson, who said she had beenfeeling tired all semester, said one of her roommates had been seeing a doctor after not feeling well due to some sort of unknown allergic reaction. When interviewed, the roommate confirmed this, but did not want her name used in the story.

The state Department of Health's Bureau of Environmental Health Indoor Air Quality program did not receive any complaints about this incident, and mold and mold-related illnesses are not reportable conditions in Massachusetts, according to the department.

Salem State University's maintenance and facilities department would be the one to handle such complains, the state agency said, and the university is not under local health or Department of Public Health jurisdiction. Mold found in a living space means there is a water issue that has to corrected, the agency said.

Health issues can occur in people sensitive to mold, and that might include allergic reactions or the worsening of asthma.

It's not uncommon to field complaints of mold on campus this time of year, Giambusso said.

"We typically receive a few such reports across all campus housing in the fall and we address them immediately while advising students on practices that can help prevent mold. Other reports have been made and addressed this year," she said.

"At this time, it appears that this was contained to two apartments, which would not warrant alerting the Department of Public Health. However, we are awaiting further testing results and will alert the department if we believe there is a larger public health threat," Giambusso said.

The roommates said they plan on meeting with a residence life official and are awaiting the final report on the mold.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @TannerSalemNews. 

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