UMD will install humidity sensors to prevent mold in 10 more buildings

The women's studies department is based in Woods Hall. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

After a mold outbreak spread through dorms last year, the University of Maryland’s Facilities Management department is installing mold-detection sensors in 10 on-campus buildings.

The sensors, added under the “MoistureWatch” program, detect temperature and humidity and calculate the point at which water droplets begin to form, said Carlo Colella, this university’s administration and finance vice president.

If the sensors detect humidity greater than 70 percent, Facilities Management staff receive an alert, and a technician will be sent out to inspect the area, according to an email from university spokesperson Natifia Mullings.

Facilities Management installed 50 sensors in select academic buildings in October and will install another 100 in November, Colella said, adding that the department would install them in more buildings if necessary.

“The health and safety of our university community is of paramount importance,” Colella said. “We’re all working together to address the challenge of mold with care and concern.”

The sensors will be in the Benjamin Building, Caroline, Marie Mount, Martin, Preinkert, Symons, Turner, Tydings and Woods halls as well as the School of Public Health buildings, Mullings wrote.

The buildings were chosen because of “challenging ventilation conditions” — spaces with limited airflow or that have window air conditioning units.

[Read more: Over 100 projects to prevent mold growth in UMD dorms have been completed]

Sean Moorman, a graduate student studying Greek and Latin, said this university is being more proactive than in the past. Moorman has a class in Marie Mount Hall.

“Especially given the issues in the dorms, they have been reactive rather than proactive,” Moorman said. “But if they’re gonna put sensors in, that could be a decent step forward, but we’ll just have to see.”

Discussions to address mold in the buildings began over the summer, Colella said.

This university has spent $30,000 on the program so far, and upkeeping the sensors will require an additional $84,000 per year, the spokesperson wrote.

Each year, the Facilities Management staff receives about 50,000 requests, and about 150 concern mold.

Residential Facilities had previously placed humidity sensors in Elkton and Bel Air halls as part of a pilot program. Last year, students had to temporarily evacuate Elkton because of mold.

Manual sensors were placed in Woods Hall in August 2018, and smart sensors — which automatically send results to Facilities Management — recently replaced them.

In early October, The Diamondback reported that anthropology department faculty members, who work in the building, had been getting sick for years. Many traced their symptoms back to the mold that had cropped up on their furniture and books — and said that this university had not done enough to alleviate the problem.

Besides installing sensors, the university set up floor fans, dehumidifiers and window air conditioning units in response to faculty concerns.

But at the end of the day, Barnet Pavão-Zuckerman, an anthropology professor with an office in Woods Hall, worries that the measures the university has taken won’t eradicate the building’s mold issues for good.

“I’m glad that they are measuring the humidity because that’s what we really need to control,” said Pavão-Zuckerman, who is also an associate chair in the anthropology department. “But ultimately there needs to be larger solutions.”

Sophomore anthropology major Olivia Meoni said the measures are long overdue. Meoni’s professors in Woods Hall have advised students to limit their time spent in the building, she said.

“As soon as it becomes an issue, people should start to deal with it,” Meoni said.

Over the next five years, Mullings wrote, the university also plans to allocate $7 million per year for building improvements, including new roofs and air conditioning systems. There is also a new form on the Facilities Management website where campus community members can report cases of mold.

Pavão-Zuckerman feels encouraged by these steps, but she remains skeptical about their implementation. Reports of mold in Woods Hall trace back to 2012.

“That sounds good. But where are we going to fall in that?” she asked. “There’s a lot of questions.”

Freshman Arden Perry agreed that while the measures taken now are great, they are long overdue. Perry has two classes in Woods Hall.

“It’s an important step that they really did need to take,” said Perry, an atmospheric and oceanic science major. “The more that people are getting upset about it, the more that they’re finally doing things to stop it, when we should have been doing it so long ago.”

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