Managing Mold With Hotel, Airline and Employer Issues

By Cesar Collado

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We cannot avoid mold issues wherever we go.  I recently had a dialog with a pilot who shared his “mold story” about a hotel destination he was forced to frequent for his job and his frustrating dialog with his employer.  These stories hit home as they require us to consider how we communicate and address issues when mold problems arise in properties we do not own or in our jobs when they require travel and hotel stays.  This back and forth communication illustrates many of the topics discussed in our weekly newsletters.

I am going to share our dialog; because there is so much to take away from this experience.

 

INITIAL COMMUNICATION:

Dear Mr. Collado 

I came across your name and information on the internet.  I am a pilot for [an international airline], and I have a mold story related to a hotel [ a reputable international hotel chain] that our crew normally stays in during our layovers in this East Asian city.  I have been suffering from sinus headaches after each layover there and am growing frustrated with my employer.  I have documented both the mold in the hotel and the water intrusion problems (photographically), as well as medically in terms of my allergies to molds.  I have evidence of the types of molds in the hotel with mold testing. 

My company is considering accommodating my request, but they are asking for medical records and one of their health care practitioners “slipped” when she mentioned that the hotel has “remediated,” the mold.  Actually, I have evidence that the hotel has indicated that there no longer is no mold, has presented my employer with a certificate as such [an Asian country, not known for regulatory excellence] and I also know that nothing has been done to fix the water infiltration problem in this five-year old hotel, or to remediate the mold using proper industry standards.  From what I can tell, they essentially pulled the wallpaper off the walls and then painted the walls.

A mold report test is attached and redacted due to a request from the individual who supplied Mold-in-Hotels-Mold-at-Work it to me.  As you can see there is a high level of Aspergillus.  My allergy testing confirms that I am allergic to Aspergillus.

I was wondering if you know of any resources that might be helpful in terms of navigating this issue with my employer, up to and including potential legal action against my employer.

Sincerely, 
XXXX

 

MY RESPONSE:

Dear XXXX,

Thank you for this email.  You pose a very challenging question that I will attempt to answer taking into special consideration your profession.  I have several friends who are pilots.  I understand the FAA has strict guidelines for pilots and air safety. Pilots can be grounded when feeling ill, if medication is taken, and for the potential effects of medications.

First, I believe you should focus on remedying the situation for yourself versus addressing trying to get the hotel to act on its own volition.  The hotel likely has contracts with airlines and will submit whatever it takes to remedy a complaint.  International regulatory standards and business practices are often much different than ours.  [A specific property] might clean one room and re-test it to obtain a “clean” or “safe” mold test outcome for documentation.  If the mold is as widespread as these pictures illustrate, extensive remediation would be required and the hotel would have to close off and completely contain sections of the property to do it right and without causing danger to employees or people staying there.  This is a very costly endeavor. I have little confidence that will happen.

I have created a list of my recommendations broken down into categories to help you to navigate through each one. They are as follows:

  1. Mold in the Hotel

Continue to provide pictures and mold tests to both your employer and to the corporate arm for the company that owns the hotel. Contacting the hotel management at that location may gain less traction than contacting the corporate office directly. It also elicits change to use social media and travel sites where they allow reviews and travelers to post their own pictures. In these cases, companies will sometimes spring into action to remedy a problem faster, as social media and customer reviews are now the gold standard in influencing the future profitability of almost any company.  You should make sure any posting on social media will not come back to you or your employer in any manner that compromises your good standing.

  1. Your Medical Information

I would play this close to the vest with your employer and continue to focus on sinusitis and allergy symptoms.  Your medical information is proprietary to you and sharing too much could penalize you, directly or indirectly on your employer’s possession. The important part here is that you have a reputable doctor citing your mold-related allergies and sinus symptoms. It would be even better if you have documentation of doctor’s visits on dates after stays at that hotel where your symptoms flared or you presented with a sinus infection. Complete medical records are not required or necessary for a doctor’s statement and affidavit. You can also reference an IgE immune antibody test for mold allergens will determine your blood levels for specific molds.  If they match, you have a stronger case.

Allergy symptoms could be problematic with your flying but not prohibitive.  I would not exaggerate or suggest more severe symptoms if you do not have them.  Cognitive symptoms may be dangerous to your job and the safety of others. I would try to hammer the point home that even though the hotel is stating that the mold has been remediated, the hotel STILL has visible mold per your photographs, still has visible water damage (per your photographs), still smells musty, and gies you symptoms every time you are forced to stay there. I would also go research travel sites to identify reviews with date stamps that validate your concerns. Document and share these findings if helpful.

  1. Communicating with Your Employer

When addressing their “accommodation,” be knowledgeable about mold remediation, symptoms, and evidence of mold during layovers with pics or mold tests.  I would even suggest you find another hotel and pay out of pocket if necessary. While costly, you cannot put a price on good rest and feeling well in your profession. I would imagine that they will eventually accommodate you with these issues. (Read more about “When Mold at Work is Making You Sick” HERE.)

There is also a significant amount of literature on the many mold dangers with the EPA, CDC, and OSHA.  This may be helpful for the carrier management to review; however, it will have little relevance outside the country.  In this particular case, taking legal action appears to be an expensive and futile exercise because of the international nature and may negatively impact your career.

  1. What you can do to safeguard your health in the meantime

Purchase EC3 Mold Solution Spray  or concentrate to dilute.   Pour some in a 2 oz. TSA compliant spray bottle.  When you get to your hotel.  Spray your bed, pillows, carpet, walls above the bed, and into the AC.  This will help mold air counts.  Take an EC3 Air Purification Candle  and light it immediately and keep it lit for at least 3 hours.  This will remove mold and mycotoxins in the immediate air where you are staying.  (Read more about “Tools and Tips for Hotel Stays” by Catherine at Moldfreeliving.com HERE.)  Finally, use CitriDrops Dietary Supplement  in a nasal rinse system (only mix the saline packets with purified or distilled water).  Rinse when you get to your hotel and in the morning before you leave.  Nasal rinsing will remove the spores that are making you feel ill.  It is extremely effective in preventing serious symptoms and mucous buildup that can lead to fungal colonization in your sinuses or the formation of “Fungal balls.”  (Read more about “It Shouldn’t be Uncomfortable: Tips for the Perfect Nasal Wash by Catherine of MoldFreeLiving.com HERE.)

Good luck and thank you for the story!  These stories really help others!   Cesar

FOLLOW-UP QUESTION:

Thank you for your timely response and thoughtful suggestions.   I’m pretty much in agreement with all you suggest and will pursue this strategy.

Basically, I will not set foot in that hotel again.  I will pay for my own hotel rooms, if necessary, at another hotel and will attempt to get the airline to pay for it one way or another.

If I may trouble you for one more thing, this was put out to our pilots.  Would you say that the first sentence is accurate in a scientific sense?  Are these molds only a problem for those with compromised immune systems or allergies?   

“Other tests indicated possible presence of certain types of mold that can aggravate allergies or affect those with compromised immune systems but are not problematic for others. The various types of mold noted on those tests included Aspergillus, Cladosporium, Penicillium, etc.” 

MY RESPONSE:

Not exactly!

Allergic reactions will occur with those with allergies to these specific molds. In the case of aspergillus, a common indoor mold, any person can be allergic, get infected, or severely suffer from aspergillus toxicities. These particular molds you mentioned above can produce mycotoxins (secondary metabolites) which are potent toxins to organ systems (including the brain) if inhaled or ingested. (Read more about “Mold and Mycotoxins” HERE.)  These gaseous or chemical residues are considered Volatile Organic Compounds (“VOCs), that can become airborne, attach to dust, or be widely distributed inside if disturbed or caught in the ventilation.   This is not common unless there is a significant mold problem (like the pics you sent).  Mycotoxins are toxic to anyone.  The normal healthy body can process small amounts of toxic compounds if exposed; however, if exposed at any concentration through inhalation, they can be stored in sinus tissue. With this proximity to the brain, they can disrupt brain function. The tissues of the sphenoid sinuses (forehead) are adjacent to the pituitary gland and the cerebral spinal fluid barrier to the brain. When mold spores are inhaled and lodge in the sinus, cognitive dysfunction often occurs (brain fog, dizziness, motor function, headaches, sleep problems, or memory issues.)

Mold and mycotoxins are especially toxic for people who carry the HLA-DR gene. The presence of this genetic attribute indicates that the body can have problems identifying and/or metabolizing these toxins.   Approximately 25% of US population have this genetic trait.  Not all will get sick unless they are exposed.  This subpopulation will be extra sensitive.  This is why one person in a household can become debilitated, while others don’t get sick at all.   This is believed generally but the evidence is suspect.  What we do know is that 90+% of those who get severely sick, test positive for this gene. (Read more about “Is there a Mold Gene?” HERE.)

Discussion: 

While mold sensitivity is a medical topic, the pragmatic truth is that it is a topic that bleeds into employer responsibility, regulation for safety, personal and business economics, and risk mitigation. This story exemplifies that numerous parties can be involved with big stakes for each party.

In this case, we have the following players:

  • An individual suffering from mold sensitivity and the possibility of others not a party to this discussion;
  • An airline employer responsible for the safety of its crew; however, it is an industry that manages costs closely;
  • A moldy hotel in a country with unknown regulatory requirements and enforcement;
  • Legal responsibilities of the employer to its employees
  • The practical matter that if the employee becomes too much of an issue, the “hassle factor” may impact the individual’s career or even livelihood.

The burden of managing mold illness falls on those affected.  Whether an issue is in the US or abroad, we cannot rely on the business ethics, laws, or regulatory bodies to always take care of us. Individuals that are sensitive to mold must educate themselves to provide the proper risk mitigation and self-care required to live in an optimal state regardless of obstacles nature and man place in front of us.

In this case, the patient valued their health above the company’s policy and will stay somewhere else to safeguard their health until policy changes.  “Better safe than sorry!”

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If you have a story you would like to share or a question, please feel free to comment on this post or email me at cesarcollado@icloud.com.

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