Sick-building experts from the mainland have identified the mold in the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Kalia Tower as eurotium, a kind of aspergillus. Despite the unfamiliarity of both words to the general public, the diagnosis, if correct, means a very common mold has taken hold in the Kalia Tower.
The American Industrial Hygiene Association’s Field Guide for the Determination of Biological Contaminants in Environmental Samples says eurotium is a very common mold found on bread, cheese and decayed fruit. A University of Toronto Web site on molds says, “Species of eurotium grow best in dry situations and are usually cultivated on media high in sucrose or glycerine. They are common in homes, stored grains, and rodent dwellings.”
“Eurotium suggests, among other things, carpets with accumulations of dry skin scales and dust," one industrial air sampling firm suggests. But that bit of information may be more useful to people fighting mold at home than in hotels, where carpets are vacuumed daily. And the Kalia Tower has only been open for a year. Sick-building experts are less likely to look at the carpeting than at the ventilation system.
Up to 30 percent of so-called ‘sick-building” cases are blamed on indoor fungal or bacterial contamination, says Wally Kowalski of Penn State. “Mold growth can occur from water damage, condensation, leaks, or even the mere presence of high humidity (i.e. more than 90 percent) because nutrient and temperature conditions are invariably satisfied indoors,” Kowalski says.
He calls aspergillus one of the more hazardous fungi and notes that its eurotium form seems to like gypsum-based finishes. Gypsum is found in wallboard. “Aspergillus is a group of molds which is found everywhere worldwide,” says Javier Vilar, an infectious diseases specialist at Britain’s University of Manchester. “Only a few of these molds can cause illness in humans and animals. Most people are naturally immune.”
But Dr. Vilar says up to 1 in 5 asthmatics may suffer allergic reactions to aspergillus mold at some time in their lives. And more serious problems can be caused when a previous lung disease has left cavities in the lung where mold can grow. An aspergillus sinusitis has also been reported. “There is probably no other genus of fungi so useful to humans that is also so harmful to humans," a University of Wisconsin mold information site says of aspergillus in general. “Members of this genus produce many industrially useful enzymes, chemicals, and foods. Yet others produce deadly carcinogenic toxins, and some may even grow through a person’s lungs as if it were a loaf of bread.”
Because of the cost of getting citrus acid from citrus fruits, most of the citric acid in cola drinks comes from one kind of fermented aspergillus. Another kind is used to make authentic soy sauce and is used in misu soup. But a third kind produces Aflatoxin, which can cause cancer or lung disease. These are not the strains found at the Hilton, if the environmental consultants are correct.