Sellery Air Quality

In recent weeks, we have seen some renewed concerns on social media from Sellery residents and families about air quality with respect to the window air conditioning units in resident rooms. The window AC units we installed in Sellery rooms were intended to be a convenience during the building renovation, to minimize noise and dust and to provide added comfort. We typically only utilize these units during the summer months. Most window AC units in general, can build up condensation and debris, even when they are well-maintained, and they can be susceptible to mold growth in any environment.

We continue to investigate this with campus health and safety experts, and in some individual rooms we have found minor mold growth or debris isolated to the window AC units, which we treated. We have not found any widespread indoor air quality concerns in Sellery. We respond promptly to any concern that is reported to us by residents.

Similar to our offer in September, we have offered Sellery residents the option for our staff to remove the AC unit from their room over winter break, for the remainder of the 2021-22 academic year. Residents can request removal through January 17, 2022 (11:59 pm Central) using our online form at go.wisc.edu/ac-removal

Frequently Asked Questions

To help share more information, we have compiled answers to some frequently asked questions on this topic:

Can Housing just clean or treat all of the AC units in Sellery?

Window AC units have a dust filter that can be washed, and surface discoloration can be treated, but they are not designed in a way that allows for deep cleaning or treatment inside the entire unit. Any cleaning or treatment or even replacement with a new unit, is only a temporary measure, with the opportunity for condensation and growth to reappear if conditions allow.

Can Housing replace all of the AC units in Sellery with new ones?

All AC units currently in Sellery were cleaned and serviced in summer 2021 before students moved in. Replacing them with new units would not prevent new condensation and growth from forming again if room conditions allow. Supply challenges and staffing also prevent this from being a feasible option in a building of over 500 resident rooms.

Is there mold or “black mold” in Sellery?

While some AC units in individual rooms in Sellery have had minor mold growth, all are treated promptly when reported in accordance with CDC recommendations, and there has been no indication of a widespread concern. Environmental mold is present in some form in most indoor environments. Surface mold can commonly form on unclean surfaces, especially if there are high levels of moisture in the space. From the CDC, “Mold growth, which often looks like spots, can be many different colors, and can smell musty. Color is not an indication of how dangerous a mold may be. Any mold should be removed and the moisture source that helped it grow should be removed. You do not need to know the type of mold growing in your home, and CDC does not recommend or perform routine sampling for molds. No matter what type of mold is present, you should remove it. Since the effect of mold on people can vary greatly, either because of the amount or type of mold, you cannot rely on sampling and culturing to know your health risk.” For more information on mold, visit the CDC website.

What can I do to prevent mold in my room?

The best ways to reduce the chance of mold spores growing are to remove any visible mold, maintain clean surfaces, and control moisture in your room. Tips for controlling moisture are posted on the Housing website. If residents have any concerns with their room, they should submit a maintenance request so that we can take action.

Does the construction project affect the air in Sellery resident rooms?

The construction area of Sellery is sealed off from the other parts of the building, so no air is shared between the residential spaces and the construction area. The building common areas’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and water systems in the building are the existing systems, which have not been altered by construction. There are no known environmental hazards that the students are exposed to. Any asbestos remediation work is completed by State-approved vendors, which is monitored by several State entities and consultants. None of this remediation work happens around students, and it is typically done during the summer months when the building is closed.

Is it unusual for some students to be sick during the semester and feel better at home over winter break?

It is common for new college students to experience new illness, particularly when living among hundreds of fellow students and attending full classrooms. This can be brought on by a new environment, new stresses, new behaviors, and lack of sleep. This is especially true this year, with COVID, flu, and respiratory illnesses circulating after a year of isolation. When students return home for break, they return to the environment, conditions, and behaviors their body is used to, so it makes sense for them to feel healthier. This does not indicate a problem inherent to their residence hall. Students who are feeling sick should talk to their healthcare provider or University Health Services (UHS), and residents who have any concerns about their room conditions should submit a maintenance request.