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Mold Plagues ‘Virtually All Buildings,’ Dean Says After Dunster Mold Outbreak

Dunster House is located in the River East neighborhood, between Leverett House and Mather House.
Dunster House is located in the River East neighborhood, between Leverett House and Mather House. By Sydney R. Mason
By Delano R. Franklin and Samuel W. Zwickel, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard administrators relocated several Dunster House affiliates into temporary accommodations after discovering an outbreak of mold in September, according to several affected students.

Kazi Tasnim ’22, who lives in Dunster, said House administrators moved residents of two separate suites to “emergency singles” and empty spots in suites throughout the house for more than two weeks. Harvard brought in an outside contractor to clean up the mold during that time, according to Zachary M. Gingo, associate dean for physical resources and planning for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“We were out of the room for like two and a half weeks,” Tasnim said. “They initially said it would take like a month, but they fixed it — they got rid of the issue sooner.”

Maintenance staff discovered the mold — located on the east side of Dunster’s second floor — while investigating a “minor leak” in the ceiling Sept. 3, Gingo wrote in an emailed statement. They found the fungus growing between layers of the walls after opening them up to make necessary repairs.

The College and the University’s Environmental Health and Safety department contacted an outside contractor that stripped wet material and mold out of the walls, according to Gingo. After the completing the clean-up, maintenance staff repaired and repainted the walls so residents could return.

Tasnim said that knowledge of the mold situation was “just between us” — the affected students, Resident Dean Michael S. Uy, and other Dunster staff — and not shared with fellow House residents.

“Our tutor had, I think, emailed the entryway … construction’s going on, it’s going to be a little loud,” Tasnim said. “But I don’t think anyone said anything to the House.”

Dunster Faculty Deans Cheryl K. Chen and Sean D. Kelly, Building Manager Lucia Baldock, and Uy did not respond to requests for comment.

Though mold and mildew can have adverse health effects, Gingo noted that Harvard was not notified of any health issues related to the “isolated incident” of mold in Dunster.

Exposure to mold can cause cold-like symptoms as well as itchy eyes or skin for some people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those with allergies to mold or asthma may experience more severe reactions, which can include fever and shortness of breath.

Mold spores are likely to grow indoors in moist areas, and standard building materials form a particularly nutritious breeding ground, according to the CDC.

Gingo added in his email that mold is common in buildings and that the University is focused on mitigating mold and water damage. He noted that though residents were displaced, the clean-up is complete and will not need any follow-up.

“It is important to know that mold and mildew are present in virtually all buildings,” Gingo wrote.

Mold, however, is not the only public health hazard plaguing Harvard’s undergraduate houses. Seveal students say they have faced pest infestations in their suites.

Quincy House resident Keshav M. Rastogi ’21 said that toward the beginning of the semester, one of his suitemates’ singles was “sort of infested with mice.”

“I think he spotted probably four to five different mice over the span of two weeks,” Rastogi said. “They captured a few and let them out at various places that were far away from Quincy, and they still kept getting more.”

Rastogi said house maintenance staff responded quickly and set up glue mouse traps around the room. Though these traps didn’t catch any mice, he and his roommates set up a device that emits high-frequency sounds that deter rodents.

Eliot House resident Kaitlyn M. Rabinovitz ’20 said she has noticed a number of cockroaches in her suite this semester.

“Eliot's known for having a lot of roaches,” she said. “We've seen quite a few of those even though we don't keep any food or anything out.”

Rabinovitz said she blames insect-related dust for serious respiratory problems that began when she moved into Eliot.

“Since living in Eliot, every single semester I’ve been at Harvard, I’ve been diagnosed with bronchitis or pneumonia, which is, like, not normal,” Rabinovitz said.

Eliot Faculty Dean Gail A. O’Keefe wrote in an email that she had not been made aware of the pest issue.

“No one has brought this to my attention, nor to the attention of our building manager,” she wrote.

House administrators and resident deans for Eliot and Quincy did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Quincy Faculty Deans Deborah J. Gehrke and Lee Gehrke.

Gingo wrote that, despite concerted efforts to eradicate rodent and insect populations in the houses, such uninvited guests are inevitable in Cambridge.

“In an urban environment, pests are always present,” Gingo wrote. “Our maintenance practices focus on excluding them, and we have been making steady progress on this front both through routine maintenance and House Renewal.”

—Staff writer Delano R. Franklin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @delanofranklin_.

—Staff writer Samuel W. Zwickel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @samuel_zwickel.

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