In the wake of Supertyphoon Pongsona on Dec 8 2002 the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association reported that 2 019 hotel rooms were immediately closed as a result of water and wind that either imploded windows or flooded rooms and public area spaces by water pushed through protective seals by force winds of up to 165 mph.

In the days that followed teams of off-island companies sent representatives in an attempt to get a piece of the multi-million-dollar insurance money that would be up for grabs to mitigate mold mildew and indoor air quality issues that were sure to be one of the many issues on the minds of property owners and managers of commercial hotels and offices.

The Journal was hard pressed to find a large scale property owner that wanted to discuss the mold problem on record. None of the nearly 12 insurance companies involved in the mitigation process would speak about issues involving clients still in litigation or working to repair rooms still closed due to indoor air quality issues or mold remediation in general.

Michael Z. Ysrael assistant general manager for Tanota Hotels Inc. owners of the Outrigger Guam Resort the adjacent Plaza shopping arcade the affiliated Ohana Bayview hotel properties and Sirena Plaza in Hagåtña agreed to talk to the Journal. He said his company saved millions of dollars by turning to a local remediation company rather than what he termed “reconstituted asbestos removers turned overnight mold specialists.”

“Right after the typhoon companies were showing up every day for about a week and a half each saying that they could clean up our buildings and provide us with documentation that they explained would prevent us from any resulting litigation should someone get sick on our properties. These people were asbestos removal companies and what we needed was mold and water removal specialists that could identify our problems and help us get back on line ” Ysrael said.

The Hilton Guam Resort and Spa and the Hyatt Regency Guam went to great lengths to remediate mold problems by placing huge dehumidifying equipment around their properties following Supertyphoon Pongsona. Black Construction Corp. lead a team of mold remediators tearing out gypsum board and carpeting on the top eight floors of the Hyatt.

Most hotels and businesses did not go to such lengths or turned their backs on the problems completely. Jerome A. “Jerry” Rocco general manager of Clean Shot a local company specializing in indoor air-quality services air-duct-systems cleaning mold remediation and commercial kitchen and exhaust cleaning lead a small band of mold fighters against the growing problem and said that while the first battles against mold may be over the war has only just begun.

“We are in business to help building owners and property managers to identify situations that currently are or could be a deterrant to the health and welfare of their employees’ guests’ and visitors’ comfort ” Rocco told the Journal. “We help [businesses] to develop a strategy for how to approach air-quality issues and when it came to working with the Ysrael family there was no need to have to sell them on what needed to be done. They were already proactive and understood that immediate action was needed.”

Indoor air quality is of major concern today to business owners both large and small across the nation. Employee sickness and cases of large-scale absenteeism can be traced in many instances to the air in a particular building.

Rocco said indoor air quality on Guam can be a problem. “Following a major storm when water enters a space and is not cleaned up and dried out completely within the first 24 to 48 hours; then there is certainly going to be problems. It is just a matter of how much risk an owner or property manager is willing to assume. But based on my experience it is a problem with a magnitude that can be directly linked to the quality of maintenance programs that building maintenance managers and owners follow albeit industry standards or otherwise and what conditions mother nature throws at us here.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes problems with indoor air quality that cannot be linked to a specific source or cause as “sick building syndrome.” The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone or may be widespread throughout the building. In contrast the term “building-related illness” is used when symptoms of diagnosable illness are identified and can be attributed directly to airborne building contaminants.

“When there is a typhoon as was the case following Supertyphoon Pongsona we have huge amount of water intrusion into a structure. Immediately after the event a responsible owner or manager would and should inspect the property to see the extent of the intrusion and to find the sources of leakage especially when you have cellulose construction material such as gypsum board which once it gets wet and not fixed properly will be the starting point of microbial activity ” Rocco said.

Rocco said many people believe if they wipe with bleach cleaner the problem is gone. “If the cleanup of a space is not done properly without proper containment and mold invasion has been established then cross contamination can occur and will invade other spaces quickly without it even being noticed. Mold can spread through the air-conditioning system throughout the rest of the structure.”

Ysrael said “so-called experts” who claimed expertise in mold remediation were correct in one respect. He said newer construction materials now being used on Guam to replace older ceramic tiles finished vinyl tiles paint and concrete were now very fibrous as in the case of gypsum board. “Before bleach could take care of mold problems after a storm but with the advent of newer and more luxurious building materials and options including carpeting and fibrous cellulose paneling boards that are not very conducive to the tropics quick action is required.”

Ysrael said companies that approached Tanota Partners suggested extensive treatments.

“They wanted us to spend a lot of money hiring people to walk around in moon suits with respirator masks and talked about zero negative and other fancy titled techniques which was ridiculous. Yes it would be fine if we were dealing with hazardous waste but the fact is mold is not a hazardous waste. We live in a very humid area.”

Rocco said the method used was straightforward. “In the case of the Ysrael properties we were given the authority to remove any fibrous board that had gotten wet and replace carpeting and clean airconditioning units ” he said. “If there was a spot of black fungi stachybotrys on a gypsum wall then we would replace it — no questions asked. That in the end was a very proactive stance to take saving possibly millions in treatments that were not really called for in that situation.”

Rocco said he performs about four to five building inspections a week and recently completed cleaning of air-handling and venting systems for Guamcell Communications Inc. when it noticed that many employees were complaining of watery eyes sneezing and a general feeling of being ill when they came to work.

Mark W. Chamberlin president of Guamcell Communications said “Following the service that was completed here we have noticed a marked improvement in employee performance and a reduction in illnesses. That can only help to increase morale and the company’s bottom line.”

Richard T. Mesa executive account manager for JWS Refrigeration & Air Conditioning Ltd. said his company is marketing a product that stops mold growth in air-conditioning coils before it spreads to ductwork and ultimately to interior spaces.

“Steril-Aire is an ultraviolet light that kills mold and has been proven in tests to reduce surface and airborne contamination in either a commercial or residential setting by up to 99% ” Mesa said.

In the past few years several lawsuits involving indoor air quality have been filed and millions of dollars have been spent in litigation. The most notable lawsuit in the Pacific region involving mold dealt with the Hilton Hawaiian Village Kalia Towers and mold growth found throughout the building a year after opening in May 2001.

A $55 million dollar lawsuit was filed May 25 2003 but Hilton against contractor for breach of contract defective planning construction and inspection of the tower.

Ysrael said of the Hilton situation “The suit really wasn’t about mold growth which began showing up soon after they opened the $95 million tower but rather construction flaws. The contractor sprayed a foam- like covering over the gypsum boards which was supposed to be left to dry for 20 days but in order to save time the covering was placed over the foam insulation before it dried and hence mold began growing everywhere.”

Rocco summed up the issue of indoor air quality by saying “If employees guests or visitors are complaining and exhibiting signs of respiratory illness then it is important for building owners and managers to evaluate the situation. While we do not have many people looking to make money through lawsuits of this type on Guam it only takes one to start a snowball effect.” MBJ