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Residents of the Quad reported an abnormal amount of dust in their rooms, which was believed to be entering students' rooms through their windows and diffused by air conditioners.

Credit: Maya Pratt

First years living in the Quad have reported an abnormal amount of dust in their rooms, which they say is making them sick and leading to uncontrollable coughing. 

The dust is entering students' rooms through their windows and accumulating in their air conditioning units, causing it to blow throughout the room when the air conditioner is turned on. Facilities and Real Estate Services administrators, who acknowledged the dust, maintain that it has nothing to do with developing a cold, which is transmitted from person to person or through droplets. Executive Director of Operations and Maintenance Faramarz Vakili said it’s possible that what students are experiencing is an allergic reaction.

Still, some students, who said that they have not yet opened their windows, witnessed what they believe to be a large amount of dust in their rooms.

"I have never opened my windows — or really done anything to bring in that many dust particles except for just existing in my room — so, I don't know what to do," Wharton first year Richa Kumar said. "Even taking daily Zyrtec and cleaning my room has done little to reduce the coughing." 

Senior Associate Director of Building Operations for Residential Services Paul Forchielli said that if students feel unwell, they should reach out to Student Health Service, which will assess the sickness and contact the Environmental Health and Safety Department if they believe that the illness is caused by an environmental hazard. 

Students whose rooms have dust can fill out a maintenance request form on the Facilities & Real Estate Services website. 

"Whenever I walk into my room, I start coughing. So, I decided to submit a maintenance request to see if something was contributing to my symptoms,” Kumar, who lives in Riepe College House, said. “I always find it weird because, even if I wasn't coughing during the day, it always creeps back when I step foot in my room." 

Kumar said that when she got her vents cleaned, she felt a difference walking into her room and started coughing less.

As a precautionary measure, FRES is responding to all of students’ maintenance requests regarding dust by sending representatives to the room to check for mold. After the inspection, FRES then sends a specialized team of contractors to clean the room's air conditioning unit of dust and dirt. 

So far, the team has cleaned 80 air conditioning units — the majority of which were identified through proactive inspection by Residential Services and not by students directly requesting maintenance, Vakili said. 

Some students complained that it took maintenance a while to respond to their requests for inspection and cleaning. Vakili said that 95% of the University’s roughly 80,000 annual maintenance requests are handled within the first three weeks.

College first year Erin Marble, who lives in Ware College House, said it took more than a month for Residential Services to inspect her room when she needed her vents cleaned. She submitted two requests because her first one was marked resolved without any action being taken.

"I've had this cough for a month and a half, and it hasn't gone away,” Marble said. “The only time it has gotten better was when I went to New York, and I wasn't in the Quad." 

Director of Environmental Health and Safety Joe Passante said the best thing for students to do in order to stay healthy is to vacuum and dust their rooms. 

The Quad will begin undergoing renovations in summer 2022, which will include improvements to the air conditioning units’ fan coil systems, Vakili said. The renovation will also include improving hallway air systems and air filtration and resolving humidity issues, Forchielli said.

Vakili added that a third party contractor performs intensive mechanical maintenance on all ventilation units within the Quad every summer. 

"We want to make sure there are many more years of life for the Quad," Vakili said.