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Reports of pest infestation in student housing spike

Facilities Management responds to reports of mold, lead paint in dorms

Contributing Writer
Thursday, October 3, 2019

When students returned to the University in September, many moved into dorm rooms alongside unconventional roommates: pests.

Facilities Management received 53 calls about pest control in September alone, an unusually high number, according to Vice President of Facilities Management Michael Guglielmo. Students have also reported mold and lead in their rooms.

Katherine Jiménez ’20, who coordinates housing for Alpha Chi Omega in Sears House, reported that residents discovered drain flies a few weeks ago in their rooms and in all of the house’s bathrooms. Drain flies are small, non-biting gnats that breed in standing water. “One of my sisters had to go to a hotel room because her room was absolutely infested,” Jiménez said.

Jiménez said she does not know how the bugs got into the rooms and is concerned that the issue may arise again. But she praised Facilities for its efficiency, recalling that exterminators came to her room quickly and the bug problem was resolved that night.

Elena Jin ’21 experienced a similar pest problem early September. She woke up after her first night in her Hope College room with 20 bug bites on her legs. She reported the incident to Facilities, who moved her out of the room and called exterminators. They later informed her that a number of spider webs had been discovered in the room.

Guglielmo partially attributed high pest numbers to humid weather but also cautioned that the problem may be connected to open trash. He reminded students of their responsibility to dispose of trash from dorms.

In addition to bugs, students this semester have found mold and lead paint in their dorms, though the frequency of these incidents has not been above-average, according to Guglielmo.

After a walk-through of Marcy House earlier this year, Facilities informed members of the Zeta Delta Xi fraternity that couches in their basement were contaminated with mold and needed to be removed.

Zete members replaced the couches, but worry that the mold will return because heavy rain still occasionally reaches the basement, according to Christien Hernandez ’21, Zete’s president.

“We do an annual preventive maintenance where we go in and clean out all the storm drains,” Guglielmo said. “But some of those 100 or 500 year storms, where you just get so much rain, the system gets overloaded.”

“When it’s really humid and rainy, the walls just start dripping water,” Hernandez said.

The fraternity plans to purchase an air purifier to combat the effects of the mold, though its members remain concerned about the larger problem of flooding.

The presence of lead paint in some University dorms may prove more difficult to resolve. Lead paint was not banned in Rhode Island until 1978, and as a result, a number of older buildings on campus were coated with lead-based paint, according to Tracy Mansour, director of residential operations for the Office of Residential Life.

Jason Carroll ’21 and David Charatan ’21 tested their rooms in Marcy House and Slater Hall, respectively, for the presence of lead paint after noticing that the paint seemed to be peeling and chipping. Both tests came back positive.

Charatan complained to Facilities, who came to his room and painted over the lead paint. He appreciated the speed of the response, but expressed some concern that the methods used by the University were insufficient to prevent health impacts caused by the paint’s toxicity.

“Usually, you’re supposed to cover everything up, have people come and get rid of the old paint, put on new paint, inspect the dust to make sure there’s no lead in the dust,” he said. “They definitely didn’t do that.”

According to Mansour, “Rhode Island is a lead-safe state, not lead-free,” meaning that chipping lead paint should be painted over, but there is no requirement to strip paint from the walls. With regards to health concerns, Guglielmo added that “as long as that paint is encapsulated, and you’re not eating it, you should be fine.”

Guglielmo said the University has a s”ummer paint program” when they restore chipping paint, but that paint is sometimes damaged again by those living in dorms during the summer. He added that if students see chipping paint, he recommends that they contact Facilities’ service response so the situation can be resolved by professionals.

Carroll, who is currently the vice president of the Undergraduate Council of Students, said he may use his position to tackle the issue of lead paint in University housing in the future. “I’ve tested one room, I don’t know what may be in other dorms, other buildings,” he said.

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