Charlotte Blasi ’26
While mold may be a common occurrence for college students in the form of laundry or food left out too long, several Scripps students arrived on campus to find mold infesting their living space before they could even unpack. The consequential mold poisoning has caused serious health consequences for some.
Clark resident Sophie Gower ’26 first noticed mold in her room two weeks before Thanksgiving. She saw black spots around the smoke detector in her bathroom that seemed to be the result of gathered moisture.
Gower’s personal air filter reported unhealthy air quality for months since arriving in August. Recently, the air quality has improved, but “that’s just from keeping the windows open 24/7,” said Gower.
For Toll resident Disha Nambiar ’26, the mold in her dorm became life threatening. Nambiar reported symptoms starting on Aug. 22 when she moved in. They have only worsened since then.
Nambiar’s symptoms began slowly, a runny nose in the morning and other common allergy symptoms but quickly escalated to frequent vomiting, hair loss, a skin infection, and difficulty breathing. At first, she attributed these symptoms to her pollen allergy, but after weeks of taking medicine with no improvement, she moved on to other possibilities.
Next, she suspected a dust issue so she and her roommates consistently vacuumed and dusted their dorm, but to no avail. Finally, she ordered a mold test in early September.
During this time, Gower and Nambiar both noticed significant improvement in their symptoms while outside of her room. This difference in health was exacerbated for Nambiar when she returned home for fall break and became more certain that the problem was the mold.
At the end of October, Nambiar noticed brown moldy spots on her HVAC system which prompted her to perform the mold test immediately. The mold test she ordered included a petri dish that was held up to her HVAC and was designed to show mold after 3 to 4 days, however in her case, the mold showed up within a day of the sample being taken.
Gower returned from winter break to discover even more mold in her room along with new symptoms. “Even though we cleared out all of our fridge and counters, there was mold on the top of the fridge and on some of the desks”, said Gower. Her symptoms included sneezing, itchy throat, and a runny nose. After ruling out COVID-19, Gower suspects mold is the culprit.
She is not optimistic about improving air quality in her room or the mold disappearing. “The air quality [in Clarke] is terrible and the fact that there are mold spores in the air is making a lot of people sick”, said Gower.
Gower and Nambiar both reported the mold to Facilities immediately and received similarly unhelpful responses.
Facilities responded to Gower’s work order by scraping off some of the mold surrounding the smoke detector, but it wasn’t enough to disinfect the area. The air quality in her room was still deemed “unhealthy” by her air filter.
Nambiar asked Facilities to clean the HVAC filter, a demand they ignored for several days. Eager to live without mold, Nambiar visited the Facilities office and asked them to conduct their own mold test and thoroughly clean her HVAC. Just like Gower, they wiped the mold away and assured Nambiar the mold was gone. She has still not heard any updates about the mold test she requested.
After meeting with Facilities, Nambiar was positive the mold was still there because she continued to experience severe symptoms, however Facilities stopped responding to her correspondence. Ironically, she said that before reporting this issue to them, Facilities had been extremely quick with their repairs, noting that when there was a clogged sink or a loose door hinge, they responded within hours.
Because of the lackluster response from Facilities, Nambiar decided to send in her mold sample for testing to determine the type of mold and pursue an allergy test to figure out if the mold was responsible. The test revealed two types of mold in her room coming from the HVAC.
Still suffering from extreme symptoms, Nambiar went to Student Health Services (SHS) for help. They informed her that her lung capacity has decreased because she had been suffering from allergy attacks for months. They insisted that her allergic reaction was a response to the trees in Claremont and refused to acknowledge the possibility of mold poisoning.
After months of being ignored and dismissed by the school, Nambiar set up a meeting with Dean Adriana di Bartolo-Beckman in hopes of finally receiving a helpful response.
Dean di Bartolo-Beckman created a plan for Nambiar to move out as soon as possible, found emergency grants that could cover her medical costs if necessary, and forced Facilities to respond to the situation. Nambiar was very impressed with the Dean’s response, noting that Dean di Bartolo-Beckman was not even her primary contact dean.
Nambiar went home for Thanksgiving break and returned with a confirmed deathly allergy to both types of mold in her room and an asthma diagnosis. “[I’ve] never had it [asthma] in my life,” said Nambiar “[I was] a three varsity sport athlete, I did not have a hard time breathing”.
Thanks to Dean di Bartolo-Beckman and her RC for putting pressure on Residential Life, she was able to move out of her room before finals to live in a mold-free space. However, after coming back from break, it has been confirmed that the administration has moved transfer students into her old room. “It feels meaningful,” said Nambiar. “I know the HVAC system is still there”.
While Nambiar is now in a new room, she is not done with this story. “[I want] more clear conversation between Facilities and the deans about how ResLife is being taken care of,” said Nambiar. “We talk a lot about the housing crisis and stuff like that. I think the school just doesn’t care about it [mold issues], once you’re in the room, you’re in the room”
She was very disappointed with the school, specifically Facilities and SHS for their dismissive responses to her health concerns. “The amount of money you pay to this school is because of the care and the experience you get at this school…we expect more,” said Nambiar.
This has been a long and grueling process for Nambiar. “It took a toll on my physical health, my mental health. It’s just so awful it took so long to get a response.” She said that she mainly had to “rely on [her peers] to get a response,” crediting her RC and her friends for encouraging her to advocate for herself.
Nambiar and Gower are far from rare instances of mold poisoning at Scripps. Nambiar said that she was not the only one to feel sick after spending time in her room and that many of her friends felt similarly. She reported that she also has a friend who was coughing up blood as a result of mold as well as other horrible symptoms.
Throughout this incident, Nambiar has been sharing her story in hopes of helping others discover the problem before it’s too late. “I tell them and they go back to their dorms, order a mold test and it comes back with mold,” said Nambiar.
Image Source: Ellen Hu ’24