The state Department of Health has been bombarded by calls from residents worried about mold in their homes, said Jeff Eckerd, an environmental health specialist in the state Indoor Air Quality Program. Since July 24, when the Hilton Hawaiian Village closed its new Kalia Tower because of mold, nearly 75 people have called the Indoor Air Quality Program — more than the number that call in a normal month. By the end of the week, Eckerd estimates, the calling tally will hit 100.
“It’s good in a sense that we can raise public awareness,” he said. But for the one-man operation funded by an Environmental Protection Agency grant, it is taxing. “I try to get back to them and (ask them) to bear with me.” People have been calling Eckerd about mold under their sinks, on their ceilings and in their drawers. His standard advice: “Any mold indoors is unwanted mold.” The longer the mold is let to grow, “the bigger the colony gets” and the more dangerous the situation can be to health.
Many Hawaii homes and buildings — those in wet areas or near the ocean — are highly susceptible to mold growth. Controlling standing water or indoor humidity is key to stamping out widespread mold growth, Eckerd said. Generally, said George Wong, associate professor for botany at the University of Hawaii-Manoa who specializes in the biology of mold, mold is harmless. Those most at risk for sickness because of mold exposure are infants and seniors, because of their low immune systems. Eckerd said “most normal healthy human beings” can tolerate minimal amounts of mold exposure. But mold has been known to kick off allergies and sinus infections in some.
Wong said he has heard of extreme cases when people have had to move out of their homes because of mold allergies. One man, Wong said, had a planter on his lanai that was so overgrown with mold that he could not go near it without his allergies acting up. When he had contractors destroy the planter, they inadvertently scattered mold particles into the air and around his home, causing him to move out to relieve his symptoms. Wong also cited a number of examples of out-of-control mold growth on the UH-Manoa campus, where at the mostly open-air Sinclair Library, there is a constant battle being waged to save books and materials from mold infestation.
UH Associate University Librarian Jean Ehrhorn said controlling the mold in the library’s stacks is an ongoing effort that has employed five student assistants dubbed the “mold team.” The group monitors books and bookshelves and cleans mold before it grows larger.
Wong said residents should “use common sense” when attacking mold growth at home. Get rid of visible mold before it gets to be a widespread problem, he said. And keep areas prone to wetness, under sinks or in the bathroom, dry. Local environmental consulting businesses have also received an influx of calls.
by Mary Vorsino, Honolulu Star Bulletin
Isle Hilton chief Schall says he learned of tower’s mold June 7
Peter Schall, senior vice president and managing director of Hilton Hawaiian Village, couldn’t be more steadfast on exactly when he found out the Kalia Tower had a mold infestation.”June 7 is when it was brought to my attention, and I’m management,” Schall said.
Unionized hotel workers held a press conference earlier this week to point out that workers had come across mold at Hilton Hawaiian Village as early as March. The workers told their managers and were told in response to clean the mold, which didn’t work. Schall said he didn’t find out until later. “I can’t speak for something that I don’t know about,” Schall said.
Hilton last week closed all 453 rooms in the Kalia Tower to investigate the problem. Eric Gill, leader of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5, has asked Schall for more information about the mold outbreak and how it could affect the health of hotel workers. The union is negotiating new contracts with Hilton and other hotels. On July 22 a union committee authorized an Aug. 13 strike vote that will cover 1,500 workers at Hilton, as well as workers at Sheraton. Hilton disclosed the mold problem on July 24.
Hilton has hired a Utah health consultant, who arrived in Waikiki this week, to distribute a survey of questions to Hilton workers. The consultant, Joseph Jarvis, is not performing clinical evaluations of the workers at this time, and is scheduled to leave Honolulu today, Schall said.
Meanwhile, Hilton continues to probe the cause of high humidity in the Kalia Tower, which was responsible for the large amounts of mold found on furniture in the rooms. The $95 million tower, opened in May 2001, houses 13 percent of Hilton Hawaiian Village’s 3,432 rooms. Hilton began relocating some of its guests to other hotels Saturday, Schall said. More guests will be moved, most likely on Monday, he said.
On Saturday, a six-day annual convention of the National Medical Association kicks off at the Hawaii Convention Center, bringing some 8,000 attendees to Waikiki and filling up hotel rooms.
Schall declined to specify how many Hilton visitors are being sent to other hotels. Hilton has estimated the mold removal will cost $10 million. Cleaning mold cost $5.5 million at the Army’s Hale Koa Hotel seven years ago.
In a pattern similar to Hilton’s Kalia Tower, the Hale Koa opened its 396-room Maile Tower in 1995, and soon found a mold problem. The Army brought in a new general contractor to clean the rooms, Incentive Design Builders Inc. of Campbell Industrial Park. Mildew was trapped in wall cavities under vinyl covering, causing a smell, so Incentive Design tackled half a floor at a time, ripping out wallpaper, carpeting, studs and drywall, said Kyle Dong, president of Incentive Design.
Each section was contained in plastic, and bad air was sucked out by machines. “They wanted to make sure it was totally cleaned. They’re the federal government,” Dong said. As the contractors moved from floor to floor, guests were moved from the floor above and the floor below. All other rooms in the 13-story tower remained open while work took place.Each section took about 10 days, and the whole project took several months. As with the Hilton’s Kalia Tower, high humidity caused the mold.
by Tim Ruel