Environmental Health and Safety

Indoor Air Quality

A large focus of EH&S with regards to air quality is focused on the topic of indoor air quality simply due to the fact that a vast majority of University employees work within campus facilities or buildings. While concerns often range from temperature fluctuations, to strange odors, EH&S typically responds to concerns that present health and/or safety concerns to employees. A large amount of indoor air quality issues are ultimately referred to Facilities Management due to the involvement of the cooling/heating systems (HVAC).

Nuisance Odors:

Nuisance odors are smells or odors not associated with any health effects. For nuisance odors like burning food, perfume,s etc. please contact Facilities Management Customer Service to make a request to HVAC to address the area. Typically, most moderate nuisance odors will dissipate within 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the number of air changes per hour in your building.

Non-Nuisance Odors:

Non-nuisance odors are characterized by odors that are causing health related issues such as burning eyes, burning nasal passages, burning/scratchy throat or general eye, nasal, throat irritation, etc. These types of concerns should be addressed to EH&S.

Examples are odors that cause discomfort or are characterized by health-related symptoms such as burning eyes, burning nose etc.

Mold & Mildew:

Molds exist within our natural environments, like many other allergens. They are commonly brought into indoor spaces through windows and doors, ventilation systems, clothing, or tracked in with shoes. Molds come in various colors, including white, grey, and pink, often found on shower walls and liners not cleaned routinely, and black, as seen around vents or windowsills, because of condensation. Mold spores can grow anywhere when a moist environment is provided. Maintaining proper housekeeping practices, controlling moisture, and providing adequate air circulation to inhibit mold growth are essential.

Due to the wide range of sensitivity and pre-existing health conditions within individuals, when enough airborne spores are inhaled, mild to severe health problems may be exhibited. Many people are fearful that any mold they see will result in a life-threatening illness. Although most people have little to no reaction to household molds, some people who suffer from allergies may be more sensitive.

The following guidance is preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of mold growth within your living space or workspace:

Tips for Preventing Mold within Your Residence or Workspace
  1. Submit a work order request to the appropriate Facilities Management department (e.g., Facilities & Planning Mgmt., Univ. Housing Services) to report any visible water problems such as leaks behind a toilet or under sinks, dripping faucets, wet carpet, leaks from a ceiling, moisture around windowsills or on walls, etc.
  2. Do not block or cover vents and maintain proper airflow. Ensure vents are not obstructed by furniture, paper, etc. Using household fans can help improve air circulation within space. Make every effort to reduce excessive clutter within the occupied space.
  3. It is not recommended to prop open exterior doors or windows while air conditioning is in use. Report any issues with poorly functioning air conditioning units to
  4. Close blinds early in the day to prevent the sun from heating the room. Turn off all lights when leaving the room.
  5. Residents should routinely clean bathroom areas with a general household cleaner. Using a product formulated to eliminate mold/mildew safely and soap scum is recommended.
  6. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using any cleaning product. Regular cleanings should be performed upon sinks, vanity, toilets, tub, shower floor, faucets, walls, and shower door or liner.
  7. Allow the bathroom exhaust fan to run for an extra 10 to 15 minutes to remove excess moisture from the air after every shower session. Submit a work order to UHS if it appears your bathroom exhaust fan is not working correctly.
  8. Store wet towels, clothing, or shoes properly to allow them to dry quickly.
  9. Good housekeeping practices (vacuum floors, wipe down counters, clean up spills quickly, wash out refrigerators, and take out the trash regularly) should be shared by all roommates to help reduce the number of food sources for mold growth.
What should you do if you see mold in your residence or workspace area?

Remember, molds exist naturally everywhere. Common areas where mold may be seen are the bottom of a shower curtain, a little black residue on a windowsill, or other possible growth areas. Please do not panic.

Take a moment to investigate the area to see if a leak or a maintenance issue is causing the excess moisture; if so, submit a Work Order to the appropriate facilities management department immediately.

In most cases, the minor problem may result from condensation and poor housekeeping. Cleaning the affected area with hot soapy water will likely prevent mold growth. Regular cleaning is necessary to prevent mold.


Molds produce tiny spores to reproduce. Mold spores can travel through the indoor and outdoor air continually. When mold spores can settle onto surfaces, they may begin to grow when favorable conditions are present. Ambient temperatures combined with excessive moisture promote mold-forming conditions. Some molds can grow on wood, paper, carpet, and foods. Extreme moisture problems are often related to unaddressed or undiscovered water sources within a structure. Controlling moisture is the primary method of preventing mold growth within an indoor area.

Typically, molds are not a problem indoors until mold spores settle on a wet spot and begin growing.

Molds exist throughout our natural environment.  Molds in outdoor conditions play an essential role in nature by breaking down dead organic matter, such as fallen leaves and dead trees, but mold growth should be avoided indoors.  Using tiny spores, molds can spread and reproduce; spores are not visible to the naked eye and drift through the air very quickly.  When mold spores can land on wet surfaces and favorable surrounding temperatures, mold growth is likely to occur.  However, mold growth is unlikely when moisture levels are deficient.

It is impossible to eliminate all mold and mold spores indoors; some mold spores will be found floating through the air and in house dust. 

Ten things you should know about Mold:

  1. The EPA has not set a standard threshold limit regarding mold.
  2. Controlling moisture within an indoor environment is the best method to prevent excessive mold growth.
  3. If you have a mold problem in your home or school, you should clean up the mold using a general household cleaning product and eliminate sources of moisture.
  4. Make necessary repairs to eliminate any water problems or leaks to prevent mold growth.
  5. Reducing indoor humidity (30-60%) will decrease the likelihood of mold growth. By venting bathrooms, dryers, and other moisture-generating sources to the outside, using air conditioners and de-humidifiers, increasing ventilation; and using exhaust fans whenever cooking, dishwashing, and cleaning.
  6. Individuals with pre-existing health conditions may be more prone to symptoms such as allergic reactions, asthma, and other respiratory issues when exposed to excessive quantities of mold spores.
  7. Prompt cleaning and drying of any damp building material within 24-48 hours will prevent mold growth.
  8. While wearing appropriate PPE, general household cleaners can effectively eliminate any mold sources directly.
  9. Preventing condensation: Reduces the ability for condensation to be collected onto cold surfaces (i.e., windows, piping, exterior walls, roof, or floors).
  10. In areas with a perpetual moisture problem, do not install absorbent materials adjacent to the water source (i.e., drinking fountains, sinks, or concrete floors with leaks or frequent condensation).

Mildew refers to certain kinds of mold or fungus.  The term mildew is often used to refer to mold growth, usually with a flat growth habit. Mildew often lives on shower walls, windowsills, and other places where moisture levels are high. There are many species of molds. Musty odors may be experienced when indoor spaces lack ventilation for long durations and have excessive mold growth.

Strong odors from compounds produced by molds are volatile and quickly released into the air. These compounds are known as microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs). The unpleasant odor is commonly associated with a “musty smell” or “moldy odor,” which often suggests mold growth in high quantities within a building and should be investigated.

It is largely unknown whether mVOCs cause any health effects. More research is needed to determine whether there are any human health effects from non-occupational indoor exposures to mVOCs.