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ERMI Mold Testing

If you suspect elevated levels of mold in your home, it's important to test your environment before cutting into any drywall or lifting any carpet. If mold is an issue, disturbing the spores can make the situation much worse.

Dust sampling is an effective way to assess the health of your environment, and the ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) test is recommended as a place to begin.

Several labs offer this analysis, including EMSL Analytical, EMLab P&K, and Mycometrics. The ERMI kit offered by EMSL has a 5-day turnaround time and costs $165. You can order online or call 1-800-220-3675.

Below is an interview regarding dust sampling with toxicologist Dr. Jack Thrasher, a leader in the field of indoor air quality.

Why is a dust sample preferable to an air sample when testing your home for mold?

Air sampling is unreliable because the results are too variable. Air sampling only identifies mold spores to the genus level. It is important to know the species of mold. Mold spores are present in the dust and the dust can be examined for species of mold using PCR (ERMI) testing. For example, we did a building in Bermuda. Initial air samples indicated low concentrations of mold spores. We then disturbed the indoor air with an aerosol of sterile fluoroethane. The spore counts went up as high as 250,000 spores per cubic meter. Thus the spores entrained in dust were redistributed into the indoor air.

Do you recommend the ERMI test as a place to begin when testing for toxic mold?

I always recommend the ERMI tests. The moldiness index is not too meaningful, particularly for sensitive and high-risk people. The portion of the ERMI test that is important is the identification of mold species. Often dangerous molds, such as Aspergillus versicolor, fumigatus, and flavus along with certain species of Penicillium are present. These species cannot be determined by spore counts because Aspergillus and Penicillium species have almost identical spore structures. Also, Stachybotrys does not readily shed spores, but can be found in dust and bulk samples by PCR analysis.

When vacuuming for an ERMI test, is it best to vacuum in one spot, or take from a variety of places around the home?

I personally recommend doing dust samples from various areas of the house. Excellent samples areas are refrigerator coils and other hidden dust accumulation areas (e.g. under washing machines), giving the history of the home since installation of the appliances. Dust from the top of drop-down kitchen cabinets is another source. One can also use carpet dust, although this may not tell the whole story. In conclusion, collect dust from areas in the house that do not readily get cleaned. Keep all dust samples separate from each other. If the dust samples are mixed, one does not know which areas are most contaminated. However, if there is no concern for the areas involved, one can mix the dust samples. I also recommend taking bulk samples of mold growth and subjecting them to an ERMI test.

Is it best to keep the house closed up for a day or two before taking an ERMI sample?

This is not a necessary requirement. The reason is that certain molds are associated with different substrates. For example, Stachybotrys requires a cellulose source, such as drywall, while others species of mold will be associated with flooring and carpeting.

Do I need to vacuum areas that I don't suspect have been affected by the mold?

If mold is indoors and in wall cavities, all areas of the home are probably affected. Therefore do the dust sampling as discussed above. Some areas may have fewer spores than others; however, the mold spores will drift throughout the house.

What about bacteria?

Both Gram-negative and -positive bacteria are also found indoors. The Gram-negative are producers of endotoxins. The Gram-positive release toxins. The Gram-positive bacteria are Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and various species of Bacillus that can be pathogenic. In addition, the Gram-positive bacteria includes the Actinobacteria, including species of Streptomyces, nontuberculin Mycobacterium, and Nocardia, to name a few. The Actinobacteria are potential pathogens and release toxins into the indoor environment that are more toxic than the mycotoxins produced by molds.

What is involved with taking bulk samples?

Bulk samples are just what the word means. One cuts out a piece of the contaminated materials, e.g. drywall, carpeting, etc. Put it in a Ziploc bag, date and label the bag, and send it to the testing lab. If litigation is involved, then a chain of custody is needed and a witness to the sampling.

How does one test for bacteria in the home?

Bacteria are tested in buildings and homes the same way. One can use bulk samples (see above) or sterile Q-tips. Take samples of suspected contamination. Culture using sheep blood agar (SBA) and TSA (Trypticase soy agar) at both 35 and 50 degrees centigrade. Have the laboratory identify the bacteria to genus and species. Also, ask them to culture for Actinobacteria. The Actinobacteria bacteria are slow growing and require several days to identify.

If I see visible mold but have no ill health effects, should I still test my home in this way?

Yes. How does one know that they do not have ill health effects? The health effects can range from just sneezing through systemic conditions of not feeling well.

What is important to emphasize about testing for toxic mold?

Too much emphasis is being put on molds. The indoor environment is a complex mixture of biocontaminants (mold, bacteria and their by-products).

For more information on Dr. Thrasher's work, visit his website.

Quotes

"I have been sick for almost 6 months now and doctors were not able to figure out why. I finally put it all together after going away for vacation for a week and suddenly my symptoms were going away."

– Anonymous

"I knew it was mold, but doctors kept telling me I had anxiety. I was sitting in my office and could not remember who I was talking to, or what we were talking about."

– Brenda

"We had some water leaks in our home... we never thought we needed to clean out and remove the floor, the ceiling, or the drywall... my two small children and I have remained constantly sick for years in this home."

– Mia

"I'm new at this, but today I cleaned my bathroom with baking soda and vinegar. It's much better not having those strong chemical smells afterwards."

– Anonymous

"I've been living in a mold-infested home for 13 months... I was going CRAZY! Finally figured it out... Just a few days of recovering in a mold-free home and I feel AMAZING!!!"

– Lauren

"I was skeptical at first that these (natural cleaning) products would work, but they work better than the stuff I buy at the store! We will soon be moving to the personal care products as well!"

– Jennifer

"Both of my sons went downhill quickly and coughed for months... They both lost their ability to read, had profound vision disturbances, and had phenomenal gastric issues."

– Lee

"In my moldy home if I left the wet clothes in the washer they would get musty very quickly and I'd have to re-wash... Sometimes I'd run a load, go to work, and they'd be musty when I returned that evening."

– Anonymous

"I started finding myself sitting on the floor in rooms of my house and not remembering how I got there, what I was doing before, or how long I had been there."

– Brenda

"Our family has been out of our home for 9 months due to mold... I am so scared and weak from all of this. We have lost friends; family members don't understand."

– Anonymous

"The entire time we lived in our (mold-infested) house the kitchen sponge would get musty smelling within 3-4 days. It was so strange. I had to buy a pack of sponges nearly every week."

– Anonymous

"My symptoms persisted and eventually turned into lethargy and depression. At the age of 26, I required a nap every evening after work."

– Jennifer

"...at age 35 or 36 I started to become allergic to everything, and I got asthma at age 36... I went to doctor after doctor after doctor and was desperate for help, but nobody could help me."

– Mia

"We all suffered from headaches, hormonal body temperature fluctuations, brain fog, fatigue, difficulty breathing, thrush, rashes, and yeast infections... we vacated our home two weeks ago."

– Anonymous

"We were having a lot of health problems and had been to the doctor countless times... we had large circles of slimy greenish-black mold on the bathroom ceiling, where it had caved in a few months before."

– C.

"I had been struggling with headaches, head fog, breathing difficulties (unable to get a full breath), constant scalp tingling, migraines, nausea, feeling spacey/detached, and severe itchy skin."

– Anonymous

"My daughter started having digestive problems... heart palpitations... coughing episodes... muscle/joint pain... asthma/allergies... Her doctor finally advised me to check for mold in our home."

– Anonymous

"My daughter has had many blood samples taken to test for everything imaginable and her doctor just seems puzzled. Everything comes back normal."

– Anonymous

Dedication