The test that started it all… The ERMI.
If you haven’t read my first “toxic mold” post, you probably want to head on over to it and give it a read. Why? Because I explain the ERMI testing process we used and it is good info to have handy, should you ever need it. Today, I would rather discuss what standard mold testing WON’T tell you and what you need to do to ensure you have a full picture of what is going on in your house (or other space).
When it comes to mold, my suggestion is that you don’t cut corners. But that’s just me. Toxic mold can wreak havoc on your health (as I well know) and I simply cannot, in good faith, tell someone to use some cheapo test to determine if there might be a toxic mold issue in their home. In addition, I also can’t tell them to JUST test for toxic mold.
What exactly do I mean by that?
You see, standard tests for toxic mold only look at, well, mold spores. Make senses right? And while this is obviously VERY valuable, it also fails to tell you something VERY VERY important.
When you test for mold, you are testing for strains of specific mold species. You need this information. It is very important. Not all mold is created equal and everyone reacts to molds differently. In general, the bad guys in the world of mold are:
- Aspergillus penicillioides
- Aspergillus versicolor
- Chaetomium globosum
- Stachybotrys chartarum
- Wallemia sebi
When you conduct a mold test, you need to review not just the spore counts but the specific strains.
A high count on a typically harmless strain isn’t necessarily something to worry about but if you are highly sensitive to mold, then it could pose an issue for you. The opposite can be true of a low count of a highly toxic strain. When we conducted our initial mold testing, the number of Stachybotrys spores was quite low. However, it would be enough to wreak havoc on our health as it produced the specific mycotoxin that was causing us such harm.
And this is what I am leading up to.
Whether you conduct an ERMI test or an air sampling test, you are possibly missing out on a huge piece of the toxic mold puzzle.
I’ve discussed mycotoxins in various posts but in short, certain strains of mold produce dangerous toxins (myco means fungal). These mycotoxins are some of the most toxic substances in existence. They make you sick. Sometimes very sick. Worse yet, they can kill you. The particular strain we had, Trichothecene, is used in biological warfare.
Other mycotoxin strains include:
- Aflatoxins (produced by Aspergillus)
Mycotoxins are too small for us to see with the naked eye. Mycotoxins are as small as 0.1 microns. Mold spores are between 1 and 20 microns. So if you conduct mold testing and have even one spore of one of the most toxic strains, you really need to do additional testing for mycotoxins. Your health and even life might very well depend on this.
Mycotoxins don’t “die” per say. You can’t clean them away. You can’t remediate them. This is why so many people who remediate their homes end up sick even after a home has tested negative for mold. Trichothecene specifically is very resilient and can “live” on both porous and non-porous surfaces for many years.
So what should you do?
You need to test for Mycotoxins. Period.
First, conduct an ERMI or HERSTMI-2 test. (Andrea from It Takes Time wrote a great post which should help you interpret the results – and also give you more info on where to purchase these test kits. By the way – the super bad test she references in mine. Go ahead – get a first-hand look!) Once you receive the results, look for those toxic mold spore strains I mentioned earlier. If you have those, it is advisable to test for mycotoxins. If you don’t have any of the most toxic strains, I would still test for mycotoxins, especially if you have been experiencing ANY odd health issues.
The mycotoxin test is a slightly different process from the ERMI or HERSTMI-2 test. In a sense, it is easier. However, it is much more expensive. My advice is that you select at least two areas to test but if you can only afford one, the best place to test is either your refrigerator coils OR the main air return. We choose to test both of those plus the air supply vents in the living room and master bedroom.
The results showed only one mycotoxin present (in addition to showing us the specific mold spore strains and counts in those areas). Interestingly enough, we only had Trichothecene in all four of these areas. Even more interesting was that we did NOT have stachybotrys anywhere other than the refrigerator coils. There was plenty there though and the fridge coils typically offer a really good historical look at what’s going on in your home.And remember – we had Stachy show up in our original ERMI even though it was not a high spore count.
Anyway, my point here is that the mycotoxins produced from the stachy we had in the living room and master bedroom were enough to invade our entire air duct system, spreading to every room in our home. They easily became imbedded in our carpet, our bedding, our clothing, etc…
I thought we would also have Aflatoxins since our Aspergillus counts were off the charts. But no – none present. This is a perfect illustration of how a low count of a toxic mold can wreak complete and utter havoc. Enough to force us to abandon our home and all our belongings.
I took things a step further and got my daughter and myself tested for mycotoxins. The results matched with what was in our home. Our bodies were excreting trichothecenes. This information was useful though because it confirmed that we indeed experiencing “mold related illness” and that it wasn’t all in my head. Yeah – mainstream doctors love to tell you that sort of thing after you appear in their office for heart related issues more than once.
If you are interested in learning more than what mold strains are present in your home and wish to test for mycotoxins, you may contact Real Time Labs. They will tell you what you need to do. Great folks over there and no, I don’t make a dime off of any testing you do. They are also the folks to get your urine test kit from if you wish to test your body for mycotoxins.
Toxic mold and mycotoxins are such a complex issue and please, do not hesitate to contact me with questions. I am happy to help. If you need a second pair of eyes on any results, I am happy to help with that too. While I am far from an expert, I do know what I am looking at these days.