Coast Guard Academy officials say humidity, air conditioning caused mold in dorms

Cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy depart their barracks at Chase Hall en route to morning classes to start a new week Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. Academy officials say mold has been found growing in several annexes of Chase Hall, likely caused by humidity and the moisture from air conditioning units. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy depart their barracks at Chase Hall en route to morning classes to start a new week Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. Academy officials say mold has been found growing in several annexes of Chase Hall, likely caused by humidity and the moisture from air conditioning units. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — Mold is growing in several rooms in Chase Hall, the main residence hall on the Coast Guard Academy's campus, after employees first cleared it from the building in August.

In a letter to members of the academy's parents association, Capt. Rick Wester, the academy's commandant of cadets, wrote this week that cadets have reported mold in all of the building's annexes, though most of the reports have come from the 'B' annex, which was built in 1961 and did not have air conditioning until five years ago.

The rooms were not designed for air conditioning, which, combined with a particularly humid summer, created a good environment for mold to grow in, Wester wrote in the letter, which he emailed to The Day on Thursday. The mold also affected uniforms inside cadets' lockers, he said.

The academy hired a contractor to clean the rooms in Chase Hall and in other buildings, including Yeaton Hall, where some spots of mold appeared earlier this summer near air conditioning units. Engineers also adjusted the air conditioning temperature, but that did not prevent the mold from coming back, Wester said.

"While we have been unable to pinpoint the exact source of the mold to prevent it from happening going forward, we have noticed that it tends to occur on AC vents and on areas downwind of the AC register, and cadets have reported that the air coming from the vent feels moist," he wrote.

Academy facilities staff have helped cadets clean mold from the walls and furniture. And because temperatures are expected to drop into the upper 60s this week, Wester said the air conditioners will be shut down in the A and B units this week, two weeks earlier than scheduled.

The academy has formed an action team made up of doctors from the medical clinic, a cadet and occupational health experts to develop a plan to prevent the mold from returning.

"We want to prevent this from happening again next summer, if at all possible, and the Mission Support department here will be closely looking at options with the current AC system in the B Annex," Wester said.

Eight cadets have gone to the campus clinic with "illness that they felt were related to mold," according to Wester. While mold allergies can cause runny noses and congestion, he said, measurements of allergens in the building fell below what they were outside. He also noted that late summer is the time of year that ragweed allergy symptoms can be at their peak.

Some of the cadets were diagnosed with viral infections unrelated to the mold, he said. The other cadets have been asked to schedule follow-up appointments with the academy's medical staff. None of the cadets' symptoms has been tied conclusively to the mold, he said.

"We encourage any other cadets who feel as though they are suffering from mold-related symptoms to go to medical," Wester wrote.

Academy staff are now encouraging the cadets to open their windows and doors to allow air to circulate through their rooms. Cadets also are being allowed to leave lockers open to prevent mold from growing on their uniforms and to use fans or air purifiers.

Cadets will soon be able to submit claims for the costs of replacing or repairing damaged uniforms, and academy staff plan to distribute absorbent powder that cadets can spread in their rooms and lockers.

The action team has worked with experts from the Coast Guard's Health Safety & Work Life Service Center to develop a plan to address the buildings with mold, and its members have hosted information sessions for cadets, faculty and staff.

An additional meeting for parents or cadets who want more information or to ask questions about the mold is scheduled for Friday.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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