Nationwide, severe flooding has caused an epidemic of black mould to infest houses from the Inner West to the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. These extreme weather conditions have wreaked havoc on Australian infrastructure and left university students living out of home especially vulnerable to mould’s economic and medical side effects.
The consequences of rising inflation and steep cost of living, compounded by the costs of mitigating the spread of an in-home black mould outbreak, have weighed heavily on the pockets, minds, and health of many local university students. One university student, local to the suburb of Annandale, recalled an entire room overtaken by black mould, rendering it completely unliveable. However, when reported to her landlord, she was simply told to keep the door permanently closed for the rest of her tenancy.
Renters with more forgiving landlords are still suffering from the economic and health-related burdens of a black mould outbreak. A group of University of Sydney students, living in the Leichhardt area, stated they were cleaning recurrent, growing patches of black mould off of their walls and ceilings at least weekly. Despite their landlord’s best efforts in funding a roof replacement, the structural integrity of their home was still not improved enough to fend off the spreading mould.
Many students also report this black mould epidemic has caused many negative impacts on their physical wellbeing. Bella describes how she was unable to clean the mould spreading throughout her bedroom while being sick with COVID-19. The issue remained untreated during her isolation, the prolonged and persistent exposure further irritating her lungs and making recovery even more difficult. Bella also expressed being unable to tell whether her residual chesty cough was a symptom of long-COVID or a consequence of living amongst the black mould for weeks at a time.
Furthermore, many students voiced complaints about the stress caused by additional costs to rectify mould issues in their homes. Ash, a USyd student located in the Stanmore area complains of having to purchase a dehumidifier as a last resort solution to an interminable growth of black mould, a decision which came with a weighty economic cost. Ash explains the material cost of removing and maintaining a mould-free home, as well as the constant looming worry that the mould will return despite his best efforts, has spiked his anxiety levels.
Another USyd student renting in Drummoyne talks about having to throw out hundreds of dollars worth of beloved clothing items after they were infested with mould, despite her best efforts to clean the spores off. Another university student and Leichhardt resident describes the devastation of having to throw out several sentimental items, including photographs and letters, which were covered in mould.
To educate and assist the communities impacted by this devastating wet weather, NSW Health released a mould factsheet, detailing the health consequences of an untreated black mould problem, recommendations for cleaning, and mould removal and maintenance. This fact sheet confirms that prolonged exposure to mould can cause symptoms such as: a blocked nose, a cough, wheezing, respiratory infection, and itchy eyes and skin, with particular individuals with pre-existing respiratory issues such as asthma particularly at risk.
Additionally, NSW Health recommends decreasing the use of heaters and keeping windows and doors open to increase ventilation and minimise household humidity levels. However, this exposes students to the glacial winds and weather conditions of one of eastern Australia’s coldest winters in a decade. The online pamphlet also suggests routine cleaning using bleach and vinegar to remove the mould, but this solution is effectively a band-aid to the issue. Other government official recommendations include purchasing dehumidifiers or professionally replacing more absorbent fabrics that have been infested with mould. Yet these strategies are not cost-effective for the students-impacted-by-black-mould demographic.
Despite the government’s efforts, the short-term solutions presented in the pamphlet are a university student’s best bet at living safely in a house contaminated by black mould. Routine cleaning can be done using a bleach and water mixture, or other chemical mould-cleaners sold at Woolworths and Coles, and a microfibre cloth.
However, there is no replacement or solution to the emotional impact of losing items of personal and sentimental value, nor to the health consequences of living amongst black mould for weeks on end. Ultimately, the onus is on landlords to offer university students solutions to their black mould crises. University students living out of home remain an extremely vulnerable community suffering under the conditions of the recent plague of black mould affecting eastern NSW, with conditions liable to worsen as La Nìna is predicted to stretch until the end of the year.