Originally published Dec. 7, 2018, in The Hoya.
Members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee, a student group dedicated to promoting workers’ rights, called for a plan to protect university workers assigned to clean mold in a letter delivered to to the office of University President John J. DeGioia on Thursday afternoon.
After entering Healy Hall with chants of “What do we want? Safe conditions,” and “When do we want it? Now,” 14 students and four employees of the Office of Planning and Facilities Management delivered the letter directly to University Vice President and Chief of Staff Joseph Ferrara. The letter requests a detailed plan explaining how the university will protect workers cleaning mold by Friday at noon.
“Our collective mission as an institution is to support and to promote justice. We must also support one another, including the members of our community who keep our spaces clean,” GSC wrote in the letter. “To honor both of these commitments, we must ensure that working conditions are always safe at this university.”
Ferrara promised to forward the letter to the appropriate administrative bodies.
“What I usually do with something like this is that I will make sure that the relevant administrators here at the university are aware of the situation, so that we can engage and try to move forward in a positive direction,” Ferrara said at the letter delivery.
As reports of mold in student housing increased this semester, in part due to unusually high amounts of rain, facilities received more assignments to clean this mold. Student work requests related to mold from August to October this year more than doubled since last year, rising to 361 requests from 147 in 2017.
Workers have treated the mold with harsh chemical cleaners like bleach without proper training, according to GSC.
“I am someone who is allergic to mold, and they would send us to rooms to clean the mold with a product called Tilex,” a facilities employee, who asked not to be identified by name because of concerns over workplace consequences, said in an interview with The Hoya. (The employee’s comments were given in Spanish and have been translated here.)
Tilex is a mold and mildew cleaner for tile. However, using chemical products like Tilex in an enclosed space like dormitory bathrooms can cause irritation.
Some students asked the worker not to use the product because of its harsh smell, which becomes trapped in poorly ventilated student bathrooms, according to the facilities employee.
“In the shower, there is no escape,” she said.
Some facilities workers have also complained of illness due to mold exposure, according to the letter. Similarly, some students say they have fallen ill from mold, like Oona Nash (COL ’22), whose doctor toldher black mold was causing her bronchitis.
“I had a deep chest cough and my bronchial tubes were congested, and my sinuses were clogged. I was constantly exhausted, and I got hives occasionally,” Nash told The Hoya for a Nov. 30 article. “I went to the emergency room twice. The doctors told me that my illness was being caused by black mold spores.”
University employees have raised concerns about mold before. In a lawsuit filed in May 2015, Aleta Mack, a former executive assistant to Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber, saidGeorgetown failed to accommodate her respiratory issues related to mold exposure.
Mack, who worked in Village C West, began experiencing difficulty breathing and filed an external complaint requesting a health hazard evaluation. She was terminated from university employment and subsequently filed the suit.
Mold cleanup of an area greater than 10 square feet must be left to a professional licensed by the Department of Energy and Environment under Washington, D.C. law. Facilities employees cleaning mold may be exposed to areas greater than 10 square feet or otherwise not comply with local regulations mandating proper protection, GSC wrote in the letter.
“I just hope the student body cares about this issue, because facilities workers work so hard to make sure that we live in a safe and comfortable space,” GSC member Jordan Brown (COL ’21) said in an interview with The Hoya. “We should make sure they get to work in a safe and comfortable space as well.”