While the structural damage caused by the catastrophic hurricanes Katrina and Rita grabbed the headlines, the mold growth was one of the most damaging aftereffects for many in the Gulf Coast region. Flooding and rainwater ravaged the interior of buildings, many of which had roof or wall damage that allowed additional moisture inside. That, compounded by the loss of electricity and ventilation systems, and the humid climate in the Gulf Coast, quite literally made for a perfect storm of mold growth. |
New Orleans in particular had excessive mold concentrations in the months following the hurricanes.
"Structural damage and contaminants brought onto the property by the flood one hotel even had a dead dolphin on the facility created other pressing problems that left moisture on the back burner, says Ben Kollmeyer, corporate technical director with Rancho Dominguez Hills, Calif.-based Forensic Analytical Consulting Services, who worked with several hotels on the remediation following the hurricane.
Once hotels began remediation, some wanted to re-open as soon as possible and either gassed or disinfected the mold, which Kollmeyer says was only a short-term solution.
"You're supposed to remove the mold-impacted materials from the building, he explains. "There were people claiming that the buildings could be gassed to kill the mold instead of removing it, but then you leave behind large reservoirs of dead mold which has the potential to negatively impact people's health. Whether the mold is dead or alive, it can still cause allergic health effects.
Mold is the asbestos of the new century, supplanting the latter as the No. 1 health hazard in commercial buildings. While fatal in only a small portion of the population, mold spores trigger allergies and asthma and can pose a severe risk for people with respiratory problems, the elderly population and people with compromised immune systems.
While the hurricanes are an extreme example of mold damage, lessons learned during the remediation can be applied to the more mundane mold problems that plague hotels.
"What we learned in New Orleans was that even with six feet of water coming into a property, as long as it remained structurally sound, you could remove the wet moldy materials and get it cleaned to a point where it could be rebuilt with low levels of mold and allergens, says Jonathan Wilson, deputy director of the Columbia, Md.-based National Center for Healthy Housing. That's good news for hotels with pesky mold problems, even those with damage behind walls or on pipes.
Cleaning Up Mold
Mold spores feed off moisture to break down organic materials in nature, so any area with moisture, especially in a region that is already prone to high humidity, can be a breeding ground for it.
The first steps in assessing mold damage are to check the areas where mold can grow, inspect the level of damage, and then dry any infested areas to prevent further growth.
The Hyatt Regency New Orleans was one of the city's most severely damaged hotels, where blown out windows allowed rainwater inside the building envelope. The hotel used fans to dry out the structures and prevent further mold growth. The Sheraton also brought in equipment with dehumidifiers and filtration devices to limit mold damage.
Significant growth required gutting some hotels, where drywall, floors and carpets had to be removed and, in many cases, replaced.
In situations where mold had seeped between walls, all affected portions had to be dried, stripped, disinfected and dried again. If the wallboard had been severely damaged, more than likely, it was replaced. Cutting corners in New Orleans, Kollmeyer says, will haunt the building owners later because of the negative effects of dead mold.
Proper remediation includes fixing the source of the moisture, cleaning and drying moldy materials discarding those that cannot be salvaged and checking to make sure the mold has not returned.
Wet vacuums can be used to dry out some substances, and bleach and water can be used to disinfect hard surfaces. Bleach kills mold in bathrooms, but it is not effective on drywall or other thick substances because it cannot penetrate deep enough to do the job. Wilson recommends a spray borate solution, a low-toxicity spray that crystallizes on beams to prevent mold growth (and as an added bonus, repels roaches).
"It's a good preventative method," Wilson explains.
Wilson also suggests using greenboard, a drywall with a fiberglass backing rather than a paper one. Although it is more expensive to use, it prevents moisture seepage.
Preventing mold damage
Despite anyone's best efforts, there is no foolproof way to avoid mold growth. Mold is a difficult substance to clean up, and moisture is an inevitability in almost any environment.
To help homeowners and businesses, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides a checklist for preventing mold growth. The agency's suggestions include fixing leaky plumbing as soon as possible, increasing ventilation in cold weather and dehumidifying in warm weather to reduce moisture levels, and venting appliances. Furthermore, the EPA recommends inexpensive humidity meters that can monitor both temperature and humidity.
Hidden mold, which can grow on the back of drywall, wallpaper or the underside of carpets, can be hard to find, so condensation and moisture has to be monitored to check the surrounding areas for mold. One way to check for the hidden mold is to stay on top of maintenance issues.
Most hotel mold problems can be avoided with the help of a preventative maintenance program. The WinTrack PM program from Mintek Mobile Data Solutions, for example, used at Marriott and Loews properties, is a system in which all equipment is outfitted with a bar code. An engineer scans the bar code into a handheld device, which then displays a checklist for the item, and the bar code is scanned again when the maintenance is complete.
"You go to a specific piece of equipment, say an air conditioning unit, and scan it, and you will have a task list to check off. Then you scan out and move on to the next piece of equipment,Ãƒ.Ã.¬Ã‚ says Kevin McConnell of Mintek Mobile Data Solutions. The Tampa Bay, Fla.-based company's software is used in full-service properties ranging from 140 rooms to more than 2,000, and nearly 1,000 properties are using its asset management and maintenance solutions.
Areas that can be prone to mold growth, including HVAC systems, ice machines, drainage pipes and refrigerators, can be routinely checked, and the bar code scan ensures that the equipment was truly checked. It also allows for electronic reporting and flags items when maintenance is overdue. It's a lot cheaper to maintain it and keep it working than replace it, McConnell says.
Kollmeyer also says that all hotels should have remediation plans in place before a mold problem occurs.
"What we really learned from Katrina is the importance of having an operations and maintenance plan for mold that is ready to go to easily coordinate the logistics to fix it, Kollmeyer contends. "The problem is best served by having a problem placed up front. n
Click here for bonus editorial on mold damage.
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