How Can Mold Tests Be A Predictor For Our Health?
Here at Branch Environmental, we believe that nobody should live or work in a building that makes them sick. In this post, we would like to let you all know more about how we test for mold, and what makes our method better than the competition. We not only visually inspect for mold, we use a scientific testing method called the Environmental Relative Moldiness Index or ERMI.
What is the Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI)?
Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) is a test that was developed by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) researchers to standardize the way mold is measured in homes and businesses, and to determine the mold burden in a home. The test measures the amount of molds that are normally found in homes, as well as, molds that are usually found in water damaged environments.
The goal of developing the ERMI test was to “standardize the sampling and analytical methods available to indoor air quality consultants, researchers, and homeowners.”1 Another goal of developing the method was to better understand the risks of mold exposure to the health of people living or working in the building.
How the ERMI Measures Mold
The ERMI measures both quantity of mold, and the number of different mold species present in a home. 1 The values are ranked on a scale from 1-5 with 1 being least moldy or not likely to have a mold problem, and 5 being very high amounts of mold or a high number of mold species. 1 ERMI values of 3 or more indicate a significant mold problem, that can cause significant health problems. 1
How do high ERMI values affect our health?
When we test for mold, we send samples to an independent testing facility that uses the ERMI test to determine what species of mold are present, and the quantity of mold present. Higher values (3-5) on the ERMI scale indicate that there is a significant mold problem. Mold affects both children and adults in many different ways including: problems breathing, asthma attacks, sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and skin, and can cause mental health problems over the long term. Molds can also produce mycotoxins.
Mycotoxins, literally ‘fungus poison’ in Latin, are secondary metabolites that can be produced by molds, and are not living organisms. 5 They are a byproduct of mold. Not all mold spores produce mycotoxins, but some do. So the molds that produce mycotoxins are the ones that could be categorized as “toxic”. Mycotoxins can cause many health problems ranging from mild to severe. 5 Even if you are not allergic to mold, you can be affected by mycotoxins. 5
High ERMI Values Equals
Higher Risk of Mold Related Illness in Adults and Children
In related studies, Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (EMRI) values were determined for homes of both children and adults that had asthma, rhinitis (inflammation and swelling of the mucous membrane of the nose, characterized by a runny nose and stuffiness), or both. 2,3 Homes of children and adults that did not have asthma or rhinitis were used as controls. 2,3 Samples were taken from each person’s home and analyzed using ERMI. 2,3
Children’s homes in three different cities (Boston, Kansas City, and San Diego) were tested using ERMI. In the homes of children that had asthma, rhinitis, or both, ERMI values were significantly higher than for homes of people who did not have these conditions. 2 In homes of adults from Northern California, similar results were found with much higher ERMI values in homes of people suffering from asthma and rhinitis than in homes of people without these diseases.3
In addition, when homes were visually inspected verses tested with ERMI, visual inspections missed hidden mold up to half the time. 2 ERMI also helped eliminate false positives where visual inspections over estimated the amount of mold. 2 The ERMI test is the most accurate test currently available to test for mold. ERMI is also the test we use here at Branch Enviromental to determine if your home has mold.
What does mold need to grow?
Molds need four things to grow: oxygen, moisture, a food source, and warmth. Molds are fungi which are unique organisms. Fungi grow from microscopic spores that are everywhere in the air. Fungi are unique in that they digest their food outside their bodies before ingesting the nutrients. Partially because of the exterior digestion, molds produce mycotoxins which can make you exceedingly ill. 5
How do you know if you have mold?
If your home smells musty like wet dog, old socks, or stinky cheese, you may have mold. The smells produced by mold are called MVOC’s or Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds. MVOC’s are compounds created by fungi and bacteria during their metabolic processes. 7 They can be detected by simply smelling the air. They give off a distinctly musty, moldy smell. 7 There are over 200 compounds that have been identified as MVOC’s.7 MVOC’s can be dangerous and even toxic to humans. If you smell odors like this, you may have a mold problem in your building. 7
You may also be able to see mold growing, but mold is not always visible. We have done inspections for clients and found mold in carpets that were visually clean, but found to be filled with mold spores after testing with the ERMI test. If you are experiencing the health symptoms of mold contamination, or you have had water damage in your home (leaking faucet, roof, etc.) you probably need a mold inspection.
Preventing Mold Growth
Basic home maintenance and inspection are key to preventing mold growth. Remember, fungi need four things to grow: oxygen, moisture, a food source, and warmth. It is difficult to significantly change the temperature or remove oxygen from a room. (We have to breathe after all!) Not to mention, that fungi can digest almost any organic material (anything made of carbon). The best way to stop mold growth is to prevent moisture buildup.
Home owners can prevent moisture buildup by ventilating areas in the home that have high moisture content including bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and crawl spaces.
- Bathroom ventilation fans should be used for every shower or bath. If possible, keep the door of the bathroom open when bathing to further ventilate the room. Check your bathroom fan’s CFM (cubic feet per minute) rating to be sure it is the right size for the space. For more information see our post: ‘How to Prevent Bathroom Mold.’
- In the kitchen, it is best to have a ventilation hood over the stove that vents to the outside. Use the ventilation fan every time you cook.
- Laundry rooms are almost always moist because of the nature of washing clothes. If possible, leave the laundry room doors open to ventilate the room. Keep washer and dryer doors open to help the room and the machines stay dry. To learn how to clean your washing machine to keep it free from mold see our post called Monstrous Mold!
- Crawl spaces and basements can be full of moisture. Visually inspect your crawl space at least every 6 months for moisture buildup and mold. If you can smell a musty smell, or see mold growth, it may be time for a professional inspection and repairs.
- Follow a cleaning routine to keep your home free from mold. Check out our ‘Branch’s Guide to Non-Toxic Spring Cleaning’ for more details on how to keep your home truly clean and well maintained. Our post titled ‘Disinfecting, Sterilizing, And Sanitizing: Is There A Difference?’ gives more information on these three cleaning techniques, as well as how, where, and when you should use them in your home.
When To Clean. When To Call.
Indoor mold growth can be prevented by controlling moisture and controlling humidity indoors.
You may be able to clean surface mold on the walls, ceilings or floors of your home that are less than ten square feet by using gentle detergents, vinegar, and water. For more information about cleaning mold yourself go to: A Simple Guide to Cleaning Mold.
If you are experiencing the health symptoms of mold contamination, or you have had water damage in your home (leaking faucet, roof, etc.) you probably need a mold inspection. If you see areas of mold larger than ten square feet, or there is a musty smell you can’t identify, it may be time to call a professional.
We’re Here When You Need Us.
Call Branch Environmental. We’re experts not only at mold removal, but at determining and remediating the underlying causes. From hidden mold sources to major contaminants. We can identify exactly what is going on in your home and rid it of environmental toxins, often for good.
Branch Environmental – Because nobody should live or work in a building that makes them sick.
For more information go to:
- EMSL (2012). ERMI Analysis – Guidelines to Interpretation
- Vesper, S. et. al. Higher Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) Values Measured in Homes of Asthmatic Children in Boston, Kansas City, and San Diego Journal of Asthma, 2007.
- Blanc, P.D. et. al. Higher Environmental Relative Moldiness Index Values Measured in Homes of Adults with Asthma, Rhinitis, or both Conditions Environmental Research, 2013.
- Basic Facts about Mold – CDC
- Mycotoxins – World Health Organization
- A Simple Guide to Cleaning Mold – Branch Environmental
- When Mold is More Than Allergies – Branch Environmental
- Disinfecting, Sterilizing, And Sanitizing – Is There A Difference? – Branch Environmental
- Branch’s Non-Toxic Spring Cleaning Guide
- Monstrous Mold! – Branch Environmental
Blog information is NOT intended to provide or replace medical advice. NO information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.
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