By: Dorothy Song
Edited By: Joseph Schneider
Washington, D.C. – Students at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) have called for transparent action from the administration regarding concerns over air quality in the new 555 Penn Building. Some health symptoms potentially linked to air contaminants like formaldehyde emerged a call for professional third-party air quality assessments.
Following the building’s inauguration in August 2023, a number of students experienced nausea and dizziness after staying in the building, with some, like Yuanyuan Liu, a second-year SAIS student, and Martha Mao, a first-year, openly voicing their concerns.
“My boyfriend has experienced benzene poisoning, which makes me so concerned and aware of the air quality issue related to the newly-constructed building,” said Mao, a first-year SAIS student. “ I don’t want to expose myself to similar risks.”
“I am concerned about the presence of formaldehyde in the school because the building is newly constructed,” said Yuanyuan Liu, a second-year SAIS student in the new building. “When I first entered the building this semester, I often felt discomfort in my throat. I want to know whether there are any harmful substances in the building materials.”
The SAIS Student Government acknowledged the concerns on student group chats, indicating a willingness to assist, and tried to contact students who had health concerns, yet specific responses have not been detailed.
The contrasting opinions among the students led to a complex and challenging situation: while some students attributed the health complaints to flu, seasonal changes, or other unrelated factors, others were determined to find answers and solutions to the air quality issue.
Despite a decline in reported health complaints after the flu season, the student body continues to seek concrete measures to ensure the building’s air quality.
“I hope the school can invite a third party to produce a professional inspection report, testing necessary indicators such as formaldehyde. This would prove to the students that the building is indeed ready for normal use,” said Liu.
The concerns and expectations regarding the school’s response to the issue remained. Some proactive students have taken to independently testing the air, with Mao’s own investigations yielding results within legal limits, yet still causing her to question the indoor environment.
These individual efforts point towards a broader desire for systematic solutions, like enhanced filtration, to ensure long-term safety and comfort.
Despite the decrease in reported health issues after flu season, the voices express expectations about the air quality in the new building worth attention, illustrating the ongoing need for transparency and action from the university administration.
The situation at SAIS emphasizes the need for transparency in health and environmental safety within academic settings, likely influencing how similar future issues are managed. It also spotlights the critical role of clear communication between university officials and the student body about health and safety matters.
“I believe the school has already done the test and AC system for circulation, but I hope the school can pay more attention on student’s concerns in the future,” said Mao.