NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR)- A former University of Oklahoma student is suing the institution over mold exposure in 2018.
Former OU student and Walker residence hall resident, Sarah Melton said she was a die hard OU fan and was excited to attend as a freshman in the fall of 2018.
“Those dorms are what make the freshmen experience what they are. I mean, that is what you go to OU for, is to meet people and to bond with people on your floor. And, you know, you put your full trust in the individuals that oversee those dorms to give you a clean and safe environment,” said Melton.
Shortly after moving into Walker, Melton said she’d wake up nearly every morning with a sore throat, a cough, and headaches.
“As the days and weeks progressed, symptoms really just continued,” she added.
“Generally, when somebody is exposed to something, they have to have an initial exposure and then they get their reactive allergic type reaction to it. And that can be anywhere from hours to days or longer, depending on the person,” said Edmond physician, Melinda Cail.
Melton said her symptoms progressively grew into chronic sinus infections, body tremors, joint pains, memory loss and a constant fever. She added she felt like she couldn’t retain any information from her classes.
“I could hardly get out of bed. I just was, it felt like tied to my room,” she said. “That was a big struggle. And then I also started noticing like tremors in my hands. So my hands were just constantly shaking. I couldn’t control the movements in my hands.”
Melton assumed it was a “prolonged cold” and didn’t consider it could be a bacterial infection.
“This really depends on the person and it depends on how allergic they are to whatever the substances that they might be getting exposed to. So that could go anywhere from respiratory problems like asthma, cough, drainage, stuffy nose, itchy, watery eyes. Some people can even go on to develop symptoms that might mimic autoimmune diseases,” said Cail.
It wasn’t until a fellow classmate of Melton’s mentioned mold her dorm room.
“I went into my bathroom, I saw the mold on my ceiling and throughout the bathroom,” Melton explained. “At that moment, that’s when my mom was like, ‘Holy moly,’ I think that might be what we’re dealing with.”
Melton said she notified the university and a representative came to take an air quality test.
In that same time, Melton’s family hired an independent specialist to swab the room for mold.
“That’s kind of how we found the mold count, I guess you could say in our room,” she told KFOR.
Melton then had a toxicology report ran on her in which Zearalenone and Dihydrocitrinone showed up in high levels.
Dihydrocitrinone is a metabolite of Citrinin(CTN), which is a mycotoxin that is produced by the mold species Aspergillus, Penicillium, and Monascus
Zearalenone (ZEA) is mycotoxin that is produced by the mold species Fusarium, and has been shown to be hepatotoxic, haematotoxic, immunotoxic, and genotoxic. ZEA exposure is mostly through water damaged buildings.
Melton explained that these initial samples were taken prior to the beginning of her treatment [beginning Dec 17, 2018] as sort of a “baseline.”
Melton endured a treatment [chelation therapy, supplements] that essentially pulled all of the toxins out of her tissues and into her bloodstream, digestive system, and urine.
“Much of the time, their immune system will take care of that on its own within days or weeks. But sometimes you have to take antibiotics or antifungal medications. If there is an actual infection with the organism, most of the time, what we would see is an inflammatory response in the body that’s going to die down after the offending substance is removed,” stated Cail.
She then had another toxicology report done in 2019.
That report showing more “daunting” results because the chemicals shown on the report hadn’t been extracted from her tissues yet, according to Melton.
That report then showed eight chemicals that tested positive. The highest level being Zearalenone at 322.26 ng/g creatinine.
She presented the toxicology report and her other findings to OU and she said, “I felt like I was being met with a lot of, like I was being stonewalled, [I] felt like I was being cornered a lot of times, [I] didn’t feel like people were listening to me.”
Melton withdrew from the university a week later due to health reasons.
OU told News 4 in a statement Monday afternoon that they’ve since installed Synexis Sphere devices in Walker, Couch, and Adams to eliminate and reduce contaminants, including viruses, bacteria and fungi to effectively break down microorganisms and provide better air quality.
“OU has taken steps to ensure residence halls meet the highest standards of cleanliness,” OU’s Director of Media Relations, Mackenzie Scheer said in a statement. “Additionally, a multi-year strategic First-Year Housing Master Plan was approved during the March 2021 OU Board of Regents meeting, which will enhance on-campus living for our students and increase environmental sustainability. Beyond the university’s cleaning protocols, residents also play a significant role in preventing environmental issues by adhering to mold, mildew and moisture prevention tips.”
“It’s unacceptable. And I need the university to take accountability in some way, shape or form. It’s just unbelievable,” stated Melton.
Melton formally filed a civil relief lawsuit against OU April 30, 2021.
News 4 reached out to OU about both the lawsuit as well as the concerns of mold. A total of 12 questions were sent, of which two were formally answered in OU’s statement.
“As it relates to your specific questions regarding Ms. Melton and the lawsuit, it is not the standard practice of the university to comment on pending litigation. We are aware of the suit and are responding as appropriate,” Scheer responded with on behalf of OU.
Scheer referred News 4 to the above listed links saying the other questions would be answered there.
Those articles do not formally answer why three residence halls were said to see this installation of Synexis Sphere devices, if and when mold testing is conducted, if there has been a high number of mold concerns/complaints brought to the university’s attention, if News 4 could have a copy of the last mold test report the university conducted, if residence halls [Adams, Couch, and Walker] are to be torn down soon, and if the university had been sued before on the basis of “mold exposure.”
Scheer reiterated, “It is not the standard practice of the university to comment on pending litigation or related subject matter. We are aware of the suit and are responding as appropriate.”
The university was unable to give more information on the topic of mold despite answering about the topic on Monday.
The pre trial for Melton’s lawsuit will be December 7.