Gregory J. Johansen (Orlando) and James M. Norman (Fort Lauderdale)
Originally published October 2004
The hospitality industry loves growth - growth in occupancy rates, ADR, RevPAR, properties under management, franchised properties and a myriad of other topics. On the other hand, if the growth in question is mold, there is a problem which, if you will pardon the pun, is a growing one.
While everyone agrees that mold has always existed, whether or not mold or mildew, which are part of the major plant group Fungi, can cause illness has always been a subject of great debate. Some translations of the Bible have a passage in which God tells Moses and Aaron how to decontaminate a house in which mold or mildew has appeared, while other translations interchange mildew with skin disease or leprosy. Some have even alleged that the famous curse of King Tut's Tomb was really a release of mold spores, resulting in the sudden deaths among the archaeologists who were present at the opening of the tomb.
Whether the subject is King Tut's Tomb, a home in Texas, or a guestroom in your hotel, mold is an issue for owners, operators and guests. One of the hallmarks of the contemporary business world is that uncertainty, lack of standards and the absence of empirical, scientific evidence are no impediment to litigation. In the case of mold, there are no scientific and/or regulatory standards regarding safe levels of exposure to mold in the workplace or hotel environments. If no one can say what is or is not a safe or unsafe level of mold in a hotel, how can anyone say that a guest's or employee's illness was or was not caused by a exposure to a particular kind of mold?
Molds and mildew are everywhere - indoors and out. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that there are as many as 300,000 or more discreet species of mold, all of which play a role in the earth's ecology by decomposing organic matter. Molds survive and propagate in humid, damp conditions, from the average hotel bathroom to air conditioning and duct work. Molds live in the soil, on plants and on dead or decaying matter, and on indoor organic material such as dust, wood, ceiling tiles, gypsum board and hotel soft goods. Molds, unlike plants, lack chlorophyll and must survive by digesting plant materials, using plant and other organic materials for food. Without molds, our environment would be overwhelmed with large amounts of dead plant matter.
Mold, of course, does provide benefits to us...