We know how proud Alaskans and Anchorage residents are. Ask anyone how many winters they've weathered here, and they'll have the number ready to go. We at Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), a non-profit organization and member of the Anchorage community for 20 years, are proud to advocate for environmental and health justice for all Alaskans and visitors to our community.
While we Alaskans may brag about our winter hardiness, our homes in cool climates are susceptible to mold due to extreme temperature differences inside and outside the buildings. The long winters and sparse daylight in Alaska can create mold in housing here more quickly and more severely than in other parts of the country, according to a 2005 study prepared for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Not only are our homes susceptible to mold, but mold exposure may be especially harmful to individuals with some common medical conditions. While there is always some mold in the air and on many surfaces, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says indoor molds become problematic when mold spores start spreading — usually after landing on moist or wet surfaces.
Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) notes that mold exposure can cause eye, nose, skin, throat and lung irritation in certain individuals. More severe reactions can occur to people with worse mold allergies, including fever, shortness of breath, and asthma attacks. And, HSS notes, anyone with a weakened immune system risks developing serious respiratory infections after prolonged mold exposure. Of special concern is the possible impact on children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that "recent studies have suggested a potential link of early mold exposure to development of asthma in some children."
Mold can affect our homes and our families, but it can also impact a vital economic resource for the Anchorage economy – hotels. Hotels are one of the most important resources we have to attract visitors to stay in Anchorage—and keep them coming back to the tune of over $798 million spent annually by visitors to Southcentral Alaska. In its annual 2018 Report to the Community, Visit Anchorage anticipated that hotel revenue for Anchorage in 2017 will come to $215 million. We Alaskans also use our hotels often for special events such as weddings and conferences.
That's why ACAT was deeply involved over the past few months in advocating for an ordinance to protect Anchorage residents and visitors from mold in hotels. In collaboration with Anchorage's labor union that represents hotel workers, UNITE HERE Local 878, and local politicians such as Assemblyman Eric Croft, we helped advocate for a new hotel mold ordinance.
On October 10, 2017, AO No. 2017-119 passed a unanimous 11-0 vote in the Anchorage Assembly. This landmark legislation establishes significant visible mold as a public nuisance and pertains to hotels of 30 or more rooms. The ordinance empowers the municipality to protect the public's health using a complaint-driven process. In severe cases, and upon compliance failures, the ordinance gives the city the authority to shut a hotel down.
With summer just around the corner, this is especially timely. Special events in Anchorage have a positive effect on key benchmarks for the hotel industry in Anchorage. For example, Iditarod Saturday in 2017 brought in $69,464 in extra revenue for Anchorage. With visitors coming from all over the world for this occasion, and as we prepare for summer, Alaska tourism's most profitable season, our hotels must be in prime condition.
ACAT supports this ordinance because it is an important public health and community right-to-know policy that protects Anchorage resident and visitors. The ordinance empowers the municipality to protect the public's health using a complaint-driven process. Please spread the word that anyone can report evidence of mold in Anchorage hotels to the Department of Health and Human Services at 907-343-4200 or at the Municipality of Anchorage's website.
Pam Miller is executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics.
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