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I-Team: Hotel Mold Investigation

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By Ben Simmoneau

It is green, brown, black and may make you sick.

It’s in corners, on walls, even beneath the glass of framed pictures.

The CBS 3 I-Team went undercover, and beyond the glitzy lobby, beach views and swanky dining at the Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City, we found what appeared to be mold in a number of rooms: guest rooms, utility rooms, and storage rooms where we saw cots and cribs.

We’re not the only ones. Last July, the Atlantic City Health Department, acting on an anonymous complaint, found what health inspectors thought was “possible mold-fungal growth ranging from moderate to heavy amounts” in housekeeping closets.

Three Chelsea Hotel workers reached out to 3 On Your Side because they are worried. They asked us to protect their identities.

“It scared the hell out of me,” said the first employee. “I had no idea what I was working with.”

I-Team reporter Ben Simmoneau asked the second employee if they are worried about their health. “Oh absolutely,” was the response.

“Have you raised these issues with management?” Simmoneau asked.

Employee #2: “Yeah.”

Simmoneau: “What do they say?”

Employee #2: “They’re working on it.”

Employee #1 also told us he’s brought it to the attention of management “many times.”

The employees say mold keeps coming back because the hotel’s roof and pipes leak.

“I know it’s coming from leaks,” the third employee told us. And all three are worried management doesn’t take it seriously.

“Surface clean it,” is how the second employee says they are told to deal with it. “Hide the mold so you don’t see it. Get through the weekend.”

“Do you think they’re putting your health at risk to save money?” Simmoneau asked the first employee.

“Oh yes, definitely. My health and the health of every guest,” that employee said.

“I was very, very sick,” said Therese Boyd from Arlington, Va. She says she had an allergic reaction to mold after one night at the Chelsea in August 2010. She says she saw mold on the curtains in her room.

“They just had mold all over them. They were covered,” she said.

So the I-Team checked in and found what appeared to be mold in several places, including behind a picture in a guest room right next to a bed. We had that tested by an independent analyst.

“Yes, it is mold, and there’s a high concentration of it there,” said Bob Glaser, who tests mold for a living.

The results show it is a common mold, which could lead to health problems with repeated exposure.

“The more chronic exposure you have to the mold, you could have exacerbations of asthma,” said Dr. Reynold Panettieri, director of the Airways Biology Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania Lung Center. “Bottom line here, there’s going to be increasing chest tightness, cough and wheeze.”

City health inspectors returned to the hotel earlier this month, where they say the problems cited in July were largely fixed. But ten days later, when we were there, we saw mold appearing to run unchecked in other locations used by employees.

So what’s going on here? Last Monday, we called Chelsea Management. On Friday, they invited us back for a tour, which we took this Monday.

“We found very few issues, but those that we did find were addressed,” said Bob Lepore, Chelsea General Manager. He tells the I-Team that the Chelsea made $166,000 in repairs related to water damage and moisture penetration in 2011, but he stops short of admitting to a mold problem. He claims since our undercover visit, only minor clean-up work was done.

“It was basically just touch up, and we do that on a recurring basis anyways,” he said.

Yet one room on the 20th floor that was marked storage appeared beige or yellow in color during our first visit. Now the storage sign is gone, the room is empty and painted white. Lepore says the cots we saw in that room were trash, and the same goes for cribs we saw in a storage room on the 14th floor, which is now also largely empty.

“Storage areas that have an issue, have an underlying water leak issue, we sequester those storage areas from our guests,” Lepore said. “We use them for trash or damaged goods.”

Lepore did not tell us how utility rooms, which also appeared to contain mold, were treated. They are now painted white as well.

Simmoneau: “I don’t know if it was just painted over.”
Lepore: “But you don’t see any mildew or mold in this room.”

So what about the guest rooms? Chelsea officials took us into one that largely appeared fine, but they would not allow our cameras in another room where we saw problems last week because they say that room is not currently for rent.

We asked Lepore what is his reaction to the I-Team seeing what appeared to be mold in several places: in pictures, closets, underneath pictures, in utility rooms and storage rooms:

“I think if a room attendant sees a mildew, their job is to make sure that they clean it. If it cannot be immediately cleaned, the room is sequestered and not used,” he said.

The Chelsea Hotel says it does not rent hotel guest rooms nor utilize any employee work areas in which they are aware of any mold or mildew. They say the hotel might treat problem areas several ways: with bleach, or a special primer or remove drywall if necessary.

In addition, Chelsea officials say another $386,000 in renovations related to water damage and moisture penetration is scheduled to be completed by May.

The hotel also says there have been no complaints to the Occupational Safety Hazard Administration (OSHA) or to hotel management.

Here is the initial statement in its entirety provided by Chelsea Hotel Management when the I-Team first asked for comment:

“The Chelsea is always vigilant and responsive to building deficiencies. The Chelsea team works swiftly in repairing any areas affected by water intrusion following a storm as well as continuing an extensive building improvement process to ensure our building is water-tight. In the past 18 months alone, the Chelsea has completed over $165,000 in building upgrades to reduce water penetration, with an additional $386,000 contracted renovations to be completed by May 2012. This includes new windows in all the annex guest rooms. We welcome Channel 3 back, and we are confident all areas have already been addressed.” –Robert Lepore, Managing Director

The following list of repairs and renovations was provided by Lepore:

Chelsea and Annex repair items directly related to building water damage and water penetration:
2011 COMPLETED:
- $71,200 – to reface building joints, window heads and building face
- $43,813 – repair Tower partial roof (additional various roof repairs in Spring 2012 contracted)
- $ 9,000 – repair building expansion joints
- $ 4,921 – repair exterior glass wall at Teplitzky’s/Annex section
- $ 7,620 – direct moisture penetration repair–wall and ceilings in isolated guestrooms
- $30,050 – new carpets throughout Annex Section and in areas of Luxe Tower (water damage)

Completed 2011: $166,604 directly related to building water damage and moisture penetration

SPRING 2012–Repairs contracted and underway related to building water damage and moisture penetration:
- $195,192 – sliding glass door/window replacement in the Annex section guestrooms
- $190,984 – February, 2012 damage settlement and repairs related to Hurricane Irene water intrusion and building damage

Spring 2012 Total Contracted repairs: $386,176 directly related to building water damage and moisture penetration

Total in 18 months related to building water damage and moisture penetration: $552,780

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