Complaints of mold plague Hilton's spa


POSTED: Friday, May 29, 2009

Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Spa, which temporarily closed its Kalia Tower in 2002 following a mold infestation, is under investigation by two state agencies for possible mold in its Mandara Spa.

Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health (HIOSH) began investigating after multiple Mandara Spa employees complained that mold was making them sick, said Ryan Markham, a spokesman for the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. The state Department of Health's Indoor and Radiological Health branch also inspected the facility yesterday, said branch chief Russell Takata.

Employees of the Mandara Spa, which is a tenant in Hilton's Kalia Tower, complained of mold-related illness after a fourth-floor pool in the tower overflowed into spa treatment rooms, Markham said. The employees complained of mold, standing water and air quality, he said.

“;We were prompted to do a site inspection because it's a work-safety issue,”; Markham said. “;Some of the complaints have mentioned respiratory and other illness.”;

HIOSH visited the Mandara Spa but did not close the facility or red-tag rooms, he said. HIOSH's investigation is still pending, Markham said. A violation could result in a fine of anywhere from $7,000 to $70,000, he said. Penalties are based on the seriousness of violations as well as a company's response and prior complaint history, Markham said.

The Health Department examined indoor air quality at the Mandara Spa, Takata said. Results could be available as early as today, he said.

If the Health Department detects mold, its regulatory powers are limited to air-conditioning systems, ventilation or exhaust systems, Takata said.

“;In every other category, we simply provide assistance and information,”; he said.

Jerry Gibson, Hilton Hawaii's area vice president, said the resort promptly responded to the pool leak. Gibson said he “;doubts that mold is present.”;

Nine third-floor spa treatment rooms out of 25 were closed following the leak, Gibson said. Hilton has hired a contractor to repair wall damage and determine whether the carpets can be salvaged, he said.

“;You don't want to leave anything wet because you can get mold, especially in Hawaii,”; Gibson said.

Mold spores are common and continually pass through the air but can grow to unhealthy levels in buildings that have air systems that are not working properly.

“;Some molds are toxic to people that have been exposed, but it's not common to have workplaces where large amounts of people have gotten sick from mold,”; Takata said.

Still, any significant amount of mold growing indoors is an unwanted situation, said Randy Herold, Hawaii director of the Indoor Air Quality Association.

“;People have different susceptibility to dampness and mold,”; Herold said.

The affected treatment rooms at the Mandara Spa will remain closed to employees and guests until all damage has been repaired, Gibson said.

“;I haven't received any complaints from guests or employees,”; Gibson said. “;If we had a problem, HIOSH would have shut us down.”;

If a water leak is discovered and cleaned up within 24 hours, usually there is little cause to test, Herold said.

However, one of the five Hilton employees who complained to HIOSH and the Health Department said that visible mold and odor are present at the spa.

“;I don't understand why they have not shut the spa down and (cleaned) it correctly, then (reopened) it when it's done,”; said the employee, who wished to remain anonymous because of possible retribution.

It was a Hilton housekeeper who first called attention to a mold problem at the resort in 2002.

Mold investigators later determined the presence of Europium mold in guest rooms. Hilton eventually paid about $1.8 million in settlement claims to approximately 2,900 guests, who claimed that the resort had failed to disclose its mold problem. Hilton later sued more than a dozen companies and individuals blaming architects, engineers, construction companies and inspection firms for the massive mold problem, which cost millions to clean up and resulted in a 13-month closure of the property.