Disabled Students Get Neglected by College Over Mold Problem

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“Oh, honey, your lungs are just covered in scar tissue,” I hear from the other end of the phone. I laugh and then wince as my newly fractured rib sends shooting pain up my side. It’s simultaneously hilarious and deeply frustrating that my first broken bone is from coughing,” said Zoë Luh.

Zoë Luh is a physically disabled student who studies at Oberlin college; he suffers from mold toxicity caused by indoor molds growing at the campus. Molds are usually present in the polluted air. They commonly grow at building materials where water leaks are present, like walls and ceiling tiles.

He wrote that he was exposed to toxic molds two weeks ago in his article published in “The Oberlin Review.” He further said that after being exposed to molds, he suffered from severe reactions.

Noticing that he could have mold toxicity, he tried to detox his body. Instead, he spent almost two weeks sleeping for most of the day and coughing uncontrollably.

Exposure to molds can cause numerous mold illnesses, including allergic reactions, throat irritation, nasal stuffiness, eye irritation, cough, lung disease, brain injury, and toxic shock syndrome. In addition, long-term exposure to biotoxins can cause chronic illness over time, leading to cognitive and physical disability.

“Since my orientation week three years ago, my experience at Oberlin has been tainted by my inability to go into many buildings and by the constant fear of seriously damaging my health,” he said.

He further said that after he wrote his first article in The Oberlin Review, various people reached out to him, sharing that they left the Oberlin for similar reasons. While other shared with him that they knew people who left Oberlin or had to take medical leave due to an unsafe environment caused by the conscious neglect of buildings.

He wrote that there are blocks of Oberlin that are contaminated with molds, while school authorities are consistent that they have prevented mold growth and there are no more molds. But he is unable to walk through different buildings of schools without getting sick. This is because Oberlin, like other institutes, is not taking care of mold growth.

“If they effectively dealt with the problem, I wouldn’t still see paint bubbling off the walls from moisture, or see years-old water spots on the ceiling, or smell the unique combined smells of built-up mold, grime, and bodily fluids that you get when you walk into certain buildings,” said Zoë Luh.

He, like other schoolmates, felt safe at home during pandemic vacations. But right after coming back to campus, his mold illness symptoms started to grow. He had pain in almost every joint of his body to the extent that he can’t even lay down comfortably. And he is afraid of the fact that his constant physical illness can lead to mental health problems and can cause more injuries like his fractured rib.

He further said, “Worst of all, it could mean a setback in the treatment program I have been doing for over a year. Since starting treatment last June, my symptoms have improved greatly, but I know that if I’m not careful and honestly even if I am careful — all my progress can be half-done, and I could be sicker than I was before treatment.”

Zoë Luh said, “This isn’t the first time I’ve spoken about these issues. I fought with the administration for most of my first year here, but I felt defeated, dismissed, and gaslighted — eventually, I stopped putting energy into something that felt hopeless.”

He knew that his efforts to make student’s safety a priority in Oberlin is just futile, like always, but he is playing his role.

He said further, “I’m asking Oberlin to take accountability for the harm their intentional neglect has caused and to invest in creating a safer environment.”

Lastly, he wrote that he is trying too hard to maintain student’s health, but he never heard of words of respect and appreciation from anyone.

Long-term mold exposure can cause adverse health effects in students. Mold toxicity not just affects their health but also destroyed their academic capabilities. Therefore, college authorities have to make sure that their campus environment is mold-free.