What are the Causes and Health Effects of Mold in Hotel Rooms?

What are the Causes and Health Effects of Mold in Hotel Rooms?

In the past few years, the search for accommodations in hotels have seen a considerable spike due to the increase in traveling worldwide. Either for business or tourism, travelers have flooded airports, metropolises, and hotels seeking for accommodation during their time abroad. Overall, hotel guests seek a good night’s sleep among other commodities that will provide them security and assistance during their time at the venue. However, some guests might be exposing themselves to toxins and other airborne contaminants due to poor maintenance of these buildings.

Among the most common problems reported in hotels, mold infestation seems to represent a considerable portion of the issues found in these buildings. Associated with the poor management of air duct system in the building, alongside with leaking problems that spread-out through the infrastructure, mold can represent a significant problem for hotel establishment exposing their clientele to a health risk due to poor indoor air quality.

Mold in Petridish

What is Mold?

Mold is a natural multi-cellular fungus that grows basically in any environment as long as it has access to organic matter, oxygen and humidity. Mold spread through different environments by means of their spores which are tiny and lightweight and are easy transported through air currents. As a multi-cellular organism, mold can be hard to detect in low concentrations but, as the colony increases, they grow into a distinctive form of multi-colored dots with a musty smell.

Since they rely on the presence of moisture and damp areas, mold is normally hidden from plain sight and can go undetected for several months. However, because during the process of digestion, they release microbial volatile organic compounds (MVOC), molds normally present a moist smell that some compare to wet socks or rotten wood. This typical odor can be the first indication of the presence of mold in the environment.

Mold infestation in hotel room's wallpapers

What causes mold in hotels?

Mold is present in almost every environment and although its occurrence is natural and does not represent direct harm, the dissemination of its colonies can induce to several health issues due to intense or prolonged exposure to mold. In hotel rooms, the presence of moist areas and damp spots in the room can lead to the promotion of mold growth. One of the most problematic factors of hotels when it comes to humidity is the common favoring of sensible cooling systems that are highly effective in cooling the air, while not necessarily dehumidifying it.

Certain additional factors favor the growth of mold colonies in hotels and should be considered when addressing the issue in the building. The presence of carpeted floors throughout the building favors the formation of dampened areas underneath the carpet that are not visible at plain sight and could allow the colonies to spread before detection. Moreover, intense air conditioning systems tend to create humidity differences between rooms that favor dampening spots as well. Finally, the common remodeling and expansion of hotels also allow for moist spots to be installed between sectors in a building that might favor mold formation.

Mold infestation in hotel room's walls

Where can it be found?

Mold are typically found in areas that present moisture, oxygen and organic matter like wood, drywall and other. Therefore, mold can be found inside ceiling tiles, drywall, underneath carpets, behind wallpaper, in the walls along leaking pipes, in crawl spaces or areas that have a dirt floor.

In hotels, mold will be typically found under the carpet that presents damp areas, behind wallpaper in rooms that have been submitted to some sort of flooding and within pipes and air conditioning systems that have presented dampening and gone unnoticed. More concerningly, since hotel rooms present a high flow of people and the activities and incidents inside the room is hard to keep track of, mold might be growing in areas unnoticed for several months before it becomes visible to naked eye and in the meantime, guests are constantly exposed to mold and subjected to the health risks involved with this exposure.

Sick woman in a hotel room

What are the health effects mold could have?

Exposure to mold for short periods can cause mild allergic reactions such as nasal congestion, cough, irritation of the throat, eye and skin. In some more sensitive individuals, mold can cause asthma attack and increase the risk of other respiratory symptoms. Due to the toxins presented in the mold spores, mold can induce other neurological effects such as depression, anxiety, and trembling, besides dizziness, confusion, and memory loss.

Long term exposure to mold, on the other hand, has positively associated mold with pulmonary fibrosis, which can further lead to scarring of the lungs and develop into lung cancer. However, symptoms that resemble flu and colds are most commonly seen.

How to test for the presence of mold?

Visual assessment of the area might be enough to detect the presence of mold when the colonies are widespread. Here, mold is found as dark spots concentrated in dampened areas in the room that can be located in carpets, ceilings or walls, nearby pipes or under wallpapers. However, since the mold tends to grow in hidden areas, it is common to have mold colonies spread out of sight to proportions that can represent significant risk before being detected. In these cases, the classical musky smell of mold might lead to the detection of the colony before a visual assessment is possible.

However, both odor and visual detection are only possible after the mold has expanded to a certain proportion, being present in the environment for several months. In more earlier stages, mold can be detected through air, surface, and dust sampling. To carry out these analyses, it is recommended that a qualified team proceeds with the sampling and analysis in accordance to the recommendations of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) to ensure adequate estimations.

In this case, air sampling should be carried out both in indoor and outdoor air seeking to compare the concentration and speciation of mold detected in both environments. The process is carried out using stationary and personal samplers that are set in a closed environment or carried out through the building. The stationary sampler is placed in the center of a single room and left sampling for a determined period of time, meanwhile, the personal sampler is carried with the technician throughout the building as he strolls through every room analyzed. By the end of this sampling process, due to the re-suspension of settled mold, it is expected that the personal sampler presents higher concentrations of mold than the stationary one.

Surface sampling is carried out by scrubbing swabs on surfaces and analyzing the sample through culture-based analysis on agar plates. Moreover, dust sampling is carried out by vacuuming the area and analyzing the sample by culture-based and culture-independent methods.

How to reduce exposure to mold?

As exposure to mold is directly related to humidity, allowing for the room to ventilate and renew the air in the room is an important step to remove the humidity of the area. This can be carried out using a fan or by relying on air drafts along the building to circulate the air. Moreover, dehumidification options in the air conditioner system also lower the level of humidity in the room. Mold tends to have a threshold to their growth at around 70% of relative humidity, below which most colonies have difficulties to thrive. However, lowering the relative humidity below 20% could lead to drying up of the bronchial mucous and should be avoided.

Mold in a Petridish in the laboratory

How can IAQ help?

As providing guests with good indoor air quality is one of the top priorities of high-quality hotels, IAQ can help assess the overall conditions of the building through careful analysis of the entire structure pointing out problematic areas. Hotels, due to their complex work mechanism present several different spots that could lead to mold growth and considering the intensive use of air conditioning, carpets, and wallpapers they also naturally provide with optimized conditions for mold growth.

IAQ counts with a group of highly qualified professionals capable of detecting, and identifying through mold speciation in Singapore the species, location and proportion of your mold infestation providing with proper cleaning procedures and further treatment suggestion to avoid re-occurrence of infestations in your establishment. IAQ has throughout the years successfully addressed several mold infestations in multi-level buildings, with interconnected air systems effectively annihilating the presence of molds and providing solutions for the incident of moisture and other mold-friendly conditions in these buildings. Hence, IAQ has been an essential tool for hotel establishments to ensure high-quality indoor air for their guests.

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