14 Hilton workers
report mold illness

Symptoms range from eye irritation
to exacerbated asthma

National expert shares insights on mold woes

By Tim Ruel

Fourteen workers at Hilton Hawaiian Village's Kalia Tower have reported health symptoms caused by exposure to mold in the tower, according to a health expert hired by Hilton.

Ten of the employees said they had irritation of the eye, throat and nose, two employees said they had skin rashes and two reported their asthma had worsened, according to Dr. Joseph Jarvis, associate professor of the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

Since Hilton announced on July 24 that it was closing Kalia Tower because of mold, the hotel has also been contacted by a few guests who said they had symptoms, said Peter Schall, senior vice president and managing director of Hilton Hawaiian Village. Hilton told the guests to seek medical help and send the bill to Hilton, Schall said.

At a press conference yesterday, Jarvis described his study of the workers as conclusive. His findings were based on a survey of workers and follow-up interviews of those who reported symptoms. Jarvis did not perform clinical tests, and said the results of his population sample could not substitute for a clinical investigation.

Neither Hilton nor Jarvis would disclose his pay for the study.

Jarvis said he encouraged employees to seek treatment from a doctor. Employees will not be responsible to pay for treatment, Schall said.

Before Kalia Tower closed last month, some 50 employees regularly worked in the guest rooms, though other employees worked in the tower on a more random basis. Workers who frequent Kalia appear to be two to three times more likely to report irritation symptoms than those who worked there less frequently, Jarvis said.

Jarvis said he found no evidence of allergic respiratory illness caused by mold.

In his study, Jarvis targeted workers in the Kalia and Lagoon towers, where the hotel has identified large amounts of mold, as well as the Tapa tower, where levels of mold are more typical of any building. Of 262 employees, 241 completed Jarvis' questionnaire.

No one in Lagoon or Tapa towers reported symptoms, Jarvis said. Unlike Kalia Tower, where mold was found in room furniture, the mold in the time-share Lagoon Tower was confined to ceilings in a third-floor corridor. Last week, Hilton began painting the Lagoon mold with fungicide chemicals as a temporary fix.

Hilton has identified high humidity as being responsible for the mold in the 453-room Kalia Tower, and is still investigating the source of the humidity, Schall said. There is no timetable for a clean up.

"We have not done any clean-up yet," Schall said. Hilton will not disclose the cost of having the Kalia Tower closed to guests, though the company has estimated that fixing the mold damage will cost $10 million.

The union that represents workers at Hilton is frustrated that employees of hotel contractor Team Clean Inc. were not included in the survey, even though Team Clean employees were hired specifically to clean the mold, said Eric Gill, financial secretary-treasurer of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5.

The union is also disappointed that Hilton is not giving out information about who took the survey, Gill said.

"The most astounding aspect of all this was Jarvis offered no written report of his findings, and has told us he does not plan to produce one," Gill said.

Without more information, the union has no way of deciding if it agrees with Jarvis' findings, Gill said.

Since Hilton went public with its mold problem, reports of mold in Hawaii have been on the rise. The University of Hawaii has reported mold, residents have reported mold and just this week, the federal government disclosed that it found mold in the Prince Kuhio Federal Building and the U.S. District Courthouse downtown. Federal Magistrate Leslie Kobayashi and her staff have been moved to another office because mold was found in the judge's chambers.

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