On Rumors of “Black Mold” in Psychology Department

There have been whispers and rumors spreading through campus regarding concern for the health and safety of those who frequent the lower level of the Suter Science Center (SSC), or more specifically, the Psychology Department. The focus of these rumors has been the supposed colonization of the ventilation system that manages fresh air throughout the Psychology Department by what people have been claiming is toxic “black mold.” These rumors are misleading; they are only partially true.

It has been found that the ventilation system of the Psychology Department is indeed infested with mold. This mold, however, while still having caused some adverse effects over the last few weeks, is not the same mold that is often colloquially referred to as “black mold.”

Professor Roman Miller, building manager for the SSC said, “I’m not sure about black mold per say, but mold has been found. It’s obvious that there are some allergic responses going on, and whether the allergies are all mold, or any of the many things that can cause allergic responses…. There is a problem. A situation.”

There is a situation indeed, although it is not nearly as dire as rumors might suggest. In EMU administration’s response to the voiced concerns of students and professors within the Psychology Department, a specialist was called in to gauge the situation.

When asked for his opinion, specialist Peter Palmer, a CIEC (Council-certified indoor environmental Consultant) with over 25 years of experience in the field, said, “It’s not black mold. When people talk about black mold, they generally mean Stachybotrys, which is a hydrophilic mold (a mold that requires abundant water flow). I don’t ever find black mold in ventilation shafts because they don’t have the proper water activity.”

Nevertheless, there is mold present, and it is having adverse effects on those who spend significant amounts of time in the Psychology Department.

According to Palmer, situations like this are “not an uncommon occurrence.” Professor Galen Lehman, head of the Psychology Department, was able to give us his opinion as to why the mold is there in the first place, and let us know why nowhere else in the building is at risk.

“What’s happening here is that this duct work was put in during a period of time when they used to put the insulation on the inside of the duct work,” said Galen, adding that with this, plus the moisture within the system itself, “there are places where all kinds of stuff can grow.”

“And as for why the rest of the building is safe,” Galen added, “this part of the building didn’t exist when the building was built back in 1967 or so. This place, this whole area down here, was empty for many years. It was just a dirt floor, bare walls, and a few light bulbs. At one point, around 1980, the psych dept was offered the opportunity to use this area. That’s when they did the actual renovation and put in all the room dividers and all the duct work, and everything that’s in here now. So, this particular part of the building is completely separate from everything else on down.”

Even though the mold is in essence quarantined, Galen said, “It’s really not easy to solve the problem.” There are many however that wish the problem would just go away.

Jess Kraybill, a new professor in the Psychology Department, said this, “I didn’t know this before, but apparently I’m very allergic to mold.”

Kraybill discovered this when, while spending countless hours in her office, she began to feel “cold-like symptoms,” which persisted for about a week, and ended with her being unable to come to work due to how sick she felt.

Virginia Baisden, First-year, also noticed some symptoms after having spent a lot of time in the Psychology Department. According to Baisden, the symptoms were similar to typical pollen allergies, accompanied by a dry throat. Baisden also noted that “Since I have not been down there as much lately, because I’ve been [purposely] getting my quizzes done a lot faster, I haven’t noticed it as much.”

Kraybill is starting to feel much better as well, thanks to the fact that it has been arranged for the professors to have separate office space in which they can work. Galen was pleased with this arrangement, saying, “This way, we won’t have to work in this environment.”

Regardless of feeling better, however, students still do not feel entirely safe. As Baisden put it, “I want it out. Having mold in a class that I know I’m gonna be in for my major is a little…unsettling.”

Ed Lehman, Asst. director at Physical Plant, says that it is not just students and professors that want the mold out. Physical plant is working toward solving the problem. “We want to be proactive, and we want to take care of the problem as efficiently as we can.”

According to Ed Lehman, they already have a working plan in place and hope to implement it as soon as possible. The plan, a short term fix, involves “taking out the [infested] duct work and replacing it with new parts, as well as taking the air handler apart and removing all of the insulation, cleaning it out, and reassembling it.” This process will take about three to five days. The hope is to do it as soon and with as little disruption as possible.

Until these measures can be taken, students should be aware that the Psychology Department will continue to function as usual. The extent of the effect of the mold has only been typical of allergies, and even then has really only affected those who spend more than at least a few consecutive hours within the space.

However, it is still recommended that those who frequent the Psychology Department should be aware of the situation and that how they respond to it is ultimately up to them. As Palmer said, “I don’t want people to be fearful, but I don’t want them to be complacent, either.” If you are experiencing what you expect to be an adverse reaction to the mold, you are advised to take it upon yourself to leave and get some fresh air. If the problem persists or is more concerning than simply a headache and runny nose, we encourage you to take it up with a health professional.

-Kevin Treichel, Co-News Editor


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