Testing A Moldy Building
Where Do you Find Mold
Mold can be in your home, place of work or school. It can be in other buildings you frequent such as the homes of family or friends, the post office or your dentists etc. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has identified more than 25% of the United States buildings as being water-damaged. I personally think it is more than that.
These can be used but they are of limited value. They give you a picture of what is in the air only at that moment in time. You do not get the complete picture. You can get an air sample test returned with negative results when an ERMI test shows severe contamination.
Taking swabs of mold in a damaged area will help you identify the mold you can actually see. However mold plates do not give you the complete picture and miss any areas that you do not swab due to a lack of noticing them.
The Gold Standard for Mold Testing
The gold standard for identifying mold in buildings is a quanitative polymerase chain reaction test called ERMI. ERMI stands for Environmental Relative Moldiness Index and is available from Mycometrics or Forensic Analytical Labs. ERMI is an objective, standardized DNA-based method that will identify and quantify molds. It represents ongoing health risks for the occupants of the building. The ERMI test finds not just the mold spores, but fragments of them that are missed by other tests. This is important as the tiniest fragment will cause ill health in susceptible people.With the ERMI test you also know exactly what molds you are dealing with and the percentage of those molds that were found. Additionally, the known pathogenic molds are seperated out. The same company that provides the ERMI test also provides a tests called HERTSMI-2 This is a less extensive test but it can be helpful when you have remediated a damaged area and want to see if it is safe after remediation. It is not as extensive a test but it also costs less.
Be careful about the labs you are using. There was an investigation instigated by Dr. Richie Shoemaker into labs such as EMSL who were getting inadequate testing results that were not matching with labs such as Mycometrics. Thankfully, practitioners noted the discrepancies from this lab and the EPA investigated the lab. As far as I know they are now using acceptable procedures, but no promises.
How the Occupant Collects A Sample
Dust is collected with a collection device on a vacuum cleaner or a special sanitary cloth. This is sent to a lab called Mycometrics where they use the PCR test to analyze the sample.
How to Find Mold
You think your building has a mold issue, but you don't see it. Perhaps you smell it or perhaps you are ill and suspect it is due to mycotoxins & other inflammagens. it is necessary to find the damaged area so it can be remediated. You can hire someone to visually check your building and look for moisture with special tools. Sometimes it is hard for an inspector to find the water damaged area. If it is old and the building has dried, there can be offending mycotoxins but no moisture remaining in the wall, floor or ceiling. Finding stains is helpful but they are not always visible. The inspector must look under the house and in the attic. They must examine everywhere.
History of water damage from current inhabitants or past inhabitants is helpful to pinpoint the location of the damage. Have you had any plumbing leaks or breaks in the kitchen or bathroom? Look under and around sinks and bathtubs. Getting a water damage history of the building ready for the mold inspector ahead of time is very helpful in pointing them in the right direction.
For details on places that might be more likely to have water damage in your building, check out "Mold and Moisture Issues in the Home". You can also check out an article on "buying a mold free house" as it gives many specific tips on how to look for houses that are built in ways that are bound to end up being moldy. Knowing what these house traits are, will help you find issues with your house and either detect mold already there or prevent it in the future by fixing the issue.
This link will provide some various building inspectors and other services for finding mold.