HONOLULU - The $95 million Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel's Kalia Tower was shut down completely in late July.

Mold problems closed the Hilton Hawaiian Village Kalia Tower. Photo by Ken Ige/Honolulu Star-Bulletin.
HONOLULU - Residents of Hawaii know that with high year-round humidity, the climate is very conducive to mold growth. However, when potentially dangerous mold closes part of a Hilton hotel at the height of tourist season, that's big news.

The $95 million Hilton Hawaiian Village hotel's Kalia Tower was shut down completely in late July after investigations turned up mold in many of the hotel's 453 guestrooms.

Among the guests who had to be accommodated in other hotels were attendees of the annual convention of the National Medical Association and the Sheet Metal Workers' International Association. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers' Annual Meeting was held in other sections of the Hawaiian Village in late June, before the news was reported locally.

Peter Schall, senior vice president and managing director of hotel, told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that the mold in the Kalia Tower was first discovered by a housekeeper in early June.

However, it was reported that several housekeepers working in the Kalia Tower said they came across mold as long ago as March. After telling their managers about the mold, the workers said they were told to clean it up using regular housekeeping techniques. Schall later confirmed this information, although he was nonspecific as to the dates.

However, even after the cleaning, "The mold came back," said Adoracion Francisco, a housekeeper for 20 years.

Workers fall ill

The molds have been identified as Cladosporium and Eurotium; the Eurotium is said to be a possible forerunner to Aspergillus, which is potentially dangerous.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, molds such as varieties of Aspergillus and Stachybotrys (the latter is not implicated at the Kalia Tower) "can produce toxic substances called mycotoxins." Inhalation exposure to mycotoxins can produce symptoms including "mucous membrane irritation, skin rash, nausea, immune system suppression, acute or chronic liver damage, acute or chronic central nervous system damage, endocrine effects, and cancer," the EPA states on its Web site (www.epa.gov).

Fourteen workers at the Kalia Tower reported health symptoms caused by exposure to mold in the tower. Ten workers said they had irritation of the eye, nose, and throat, two said they had skin rashes and two reported the mold had made their asthma worse.

Schall said that since the hotel's closing, a few guests who said they had symptoms also have contacted management.

Dr. Joseph Jarvis, associate professor of the University of Nevada School of Medicine, questioned workers in the Kalia and Lagoon towers. (Mold was found in a corridor of the recently renovated Lagoon Tower.) Workers from the Tapa Tower were also questioned. No evidence of allergic respiratory illness was reported, Jarvis said.

The Tapa Tower, where most ASHRAE sessions were held, was said to have mold levels "more typical of any building," according to the Star-Bulletin. The Lagoon had mold that was "confined to ceilings in a third-floor corridor." Only workers from the Kalia Tower reported symptoms.

An early investigation by Air Quality Services Inc., an Atlanta-based IAQ consulting firm, showed that humidity in the guestrooms was higher than normal. The cause of the high indoor humidity has not yet been determined, although it seems likely to have been caused by a combination of conditions, AQS officials said.