SUNY Old Westbury basketball player Alan McDonald started getting rashes in early September and didn’t know why.
It turns out that there was mold on his dorm bed mattress.
At least 60 dorm rooms throughout SUNY Old Westbury’s five dorm buildings have mold, said the college’s vice president for communications, Michael Kinane.
That may affect around 120 of the 850 students living in residence halls, he said.
In early October, two students were taken to the emergency room and released after complaining about difficulty breathing, Kinane said.
SUNY Old Westbury is one of a number of colleges with reports of dorm mold this season. Regionally, Columbia University and St. Peters University have been affected, but mold has hit more distant schools in states including Tennessee, Maryland and Arkansas.
“We’ve been trying to clean the affected areas as quickly as we can when they’re reported,” Kinane said.
He said that students should report mold as soon as they see it, but McDonald’s mother, Sara Morrison, said that students such as her son don’t notice or recognize it.
The school has put temporary dehumidifiers in the dorm buildings and is speaking to outside vendors about potential further steps, Kinane said.
The dorms are designed for typical Northeastern weather, not intense humidity that the area experienced during the summer and fall, Kinane said.
“That will be solved as the weather cools off but in the interim we need to do what we can to resolve the condition for our students,” he said.
Some students open their windows when the centrally controlled air-conditioning feels chilly, which could have let in extra outside humidity, he said.
McDonald reported the mold to his building’s resident director Oct. 4 when he saw it on his shoes. It was on the walls and his bed too, but he didn’t recognize it at the time. The resident director told him that there was nothing officials could do because the mold was on his personal belongings but sent a maintenance worker to take a look.
“As soon as he stepped in the room he stepped back out,” McDonald said.
The mold was so strong that the worker could feel it in the air, McDonald said. The school moved McDonald and his roommate to another building that night, which is where McDonald has been living ever since.
He’s been to the doctor twice and has been relying heavily on an inhaler.
“I feel better but I still feel sick,” he said. “My nose is still constantly congested and running. Sometimes I get headaches. When I was still in that room I’d get massive headaches.”
Morrison said the school has been painting over mold.
“When it presents like that you’ve got to take down walls, and they’re clearly not interested in doing that,” she said. “Meanwhile these kids are taking out student loans, we’re paying out of pocket for the kids to stay somewhere that is not safe.”
A digital petition with 205 signatures is circulating to “show SUNY Old Westbury how many people are outraged.”
“We cannot stay quiet when we pay thousands of dollars that go into this institution and when our health is at stake,” it says.
The petition says that students were told they would not be reimbursed for affected property, but the university is looking into the possibility of doing so, Kinane said.
A final decision has not yet been reached, and may take extra time because Old Westbury is part of the larger SUNY system, he said.
“I’m a mom of five, and that’s not something that you want to hear,” Morrison said. “They’re doing very little and if it wasn’t for the media exposure I don’t know how much more they would be doing.”
McDonald’s room passed its health and safety inspection on Oct. 3, Morrison said. When she asked how it passed, she was told the inspection is only for examining wiring and outlets, she said.