Sydney Mold teases university students

Nationwide, severe flooding has sparked an epidemic of black mold that plagues homes from the Inner West to Sydney’s eastern suburbs. These extreme weather events have wreaked havoc on Australia’s infrastructure and left university students living outdoors particularly vulnerable to the economic and medical side effects of mold.

The effects of rising inflation and the high cost of living, compounded by the cost of reducing the spread of a black mold outbreak in the home, have weighed heavily on the wallets, minds and health of many local university students. A college student from the suburb of Annandale recalled an entire room that had been overtaken by black mold, rendering it completely unlivable. However, when she was reported to her landlord, she was simply told to keep the door closed permanently for the remainder of her rental period.

Tenants with more forgiving landlords are still suffering the economic and health-related burdens of a black mold outbreak. A group of students from the University of Sydney, living in the Leichhardt area, stated they were clearing recurring, growing black mold patches from their walls and ceilings at least weekly. Despite their landlord’s efforts to fund a roof replacement, their home’s structural integrity still hadn’t improved enough to fend off the spreading fungus.

Many students also report that this black mold epidemic has had many negative impacts on their physical well-being. Bella describes how she was unable to remove the mold that was spreading through her bedroom while she was sick with COVID-19. The problem went untreated during her isolation, the prolonged and persistent exposure further irritated her lungs and made recovery even more difficult. Bella also said she was unable to say whether her residual chest cough was a symptom of long-term COVID or a result of living among the black mold for weeks at a time.

In addition, many students complained about the stress caused by the extra costs of eliminating mold in the home. Ash, a USyd student in the Stanmore area, complains that he must buy a dehumidifier as a last resort for an endless growth of black mold, a decision that comes at a high economic cost. Ash explains that the material costs of removing and maintaining a house without mold, as well as the constant fear that the mold will return despite his best efforts, has increased his anxiety.

Another USyd student who rents in Drummoyne says that despite her efforts to remove the spores, she has been forced to throw away hundreds of dollars’ worth of beloved clothing. Another university student and resident of Leichhardt describes the devastation of throwing out several sentimental items, including photos and letters, which were covered in mold.

To educate and help the communities affected by this devastating wet weather, NSW Health has released a mold factsheet detailing the health implications of an untreated black mold problem, cleaning recommendations, and mold removal and maintenance. . This fact sheet confirms that prolonged exposure to mold can cause symptoms such as: a stuffy nose, coughing, wheezing, respiratory infection and itchy eyes and skin, with people with pre-existing respiratory problems such as asthma especially at increased risk.

In addition, NSW Health recommends reducing the use of heaters and keeping windows and doors open to increase ventilation and minimize humidity in the home. However, this exposes students to the glacial winds and weather conditions of one of the coldest winters in Eastern Australia in a decade. The online pamphlet also suggests routine cleaning with bleach and vinegar to get rid of the mold, but this solution is actually a band-aid on the problem. Other official government recommendations include purchasing dehumidifiers or professionally replacing more absorbent fabrics contaminated with mold. Still, these strategies are not cost-effective for the demographics of students affected by black mold.

Despite government efforts, the short-term solutions presented in the pamphlet are the best bet for a college student to live safely in a home infested with black mold. Routine cleaning can be done with a mixture of bleach and water, or other chemical mold cleaners sold at Woolworths and Coles, and a microfiber cloth.

However, there is no substitute or solution for the emotional impact of losing personal and emotional value, nor for the health consequences of living for weeks among black mold. Ultimately, it is landlords’ responsibility to provide college students with solutions to their black mold crises. Out-of-home college students remain an extremely vulnerable community suffering from the conditions of the recent black mold plague that is affecting eastern NSW, and conditions could deteriorate as La Nìna is expected to stretch through the end of the year.

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