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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 29, 2002

Health official says mold pervasive

By Karen Blakeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

When the Hilton Hawaiian Village announced it was shutting down 453 guest rooms in its newly built, Kalia Tower because of mold, Hawai'i's residents decided it might be time to take a closer look at the musty-smelling life form that invades so many homes and businesses on the islands.

"We're getting lots of calls for information," said Bruce Anderson, state health director, "and we're happy to provide it."

"It's much more pervasive than people think," he said.

Hawai'i's high humidity and the lack of killing frosts can make any indoor environment a potential petri dish for mold growth, but most of the severe problems occur in workplaces, he said.

Particularly susceptible are office buildings where large climate control systems recirculate air in an effort to conserve on air-conditioning bills. Employees made sick by exposure to airborne mold spores usually bring the problem to light.

Exposure to mold can cause rashes and skin discomfort, such as that experienced by the Kalia Tower worker who discovered the Hilton mold on a piece of furniture and touched it, he said, but people are more likely to show common allergy symptoms, including watery, itchy eyes and noses, and sneezing and coughing.

Asthma attacks can be caused by mold, as well as a host of other respiratory illnesses.

Continued exposure to high levels of mold over long periods of time can cause hypersensitivity even in people who were not allergic to mold previously, he said.

The person will develop pneumonia-like symptoms as his lungs fill with fluid, and he often finds himself unable to remain in the contaminated work place for more than a few hours.

Mold is common in Hawai'i's homes, Anderson said, but homeowners who leave their windows open and allow fresh air to pass through will experience fewer problems.

Humidity and dampness are the biggest enemies in the war against mold.

Window air conditioners, provided they are kept clean and well maintained, can help decrease humidity, he said.

Dehumidifying light rods used in closets can help keep shoes and clothing from growing mold.

Mold found on walls and other hard surfaces can be cleaned with water and bleach, but Anderson recommended wearing protective gloves while doing the job.

And don't forget that those gloves you leave under the sink between cleaning jobs can harbor mold themselves, he cautioned.

"Throw them out every week or two," he said. "It is worth the expense."

Keeping things clean and disposing of unnecessary clutter — including those stack of newspapers and magazines — helps to reduce mold growth, he said. But even meticulously neat housekeepers can accidentally provide a growth medium.

Carpets that are steam cleaned and not allowed to dry properly can quickly grow colonies of mold, he said. Damp draperies are another common mold growth medium.

Once the fabric reaches the state where it shows discolored spots and smells musty, the damage has been done.

"You're probably best off just to throw them out," he said.

More information is available by calling the Health Department or by using the Internet.

The Environmental Protection Agency has information on its Web site.

The National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases has information.

An organization based in the United Kingdom has a Web site.

The site contains news stories, studies and links to support groups and other Web sites.

Anderson recommended caution when conducting research beyond the usual government sites.

"Remember," he said, "anyone can put anything on the Web."