Last month we talked about testing of patients for mycotoxins (LINK). In this installment I wanted to discuss home/office/school testing which is an important part of the patient puzzle. For a lot of patients, finding the source of exposure can be much trickier than measuring mycotoxins in the urine. One reason is that there is not an accepted universal protocol for how to accurately assess a location for mold. Another reason is that mold can be difficult to locate because it hides in dark areas and behind walls.
Mold spores are heavy and sometimes sticky which can also make them difficult to collect. So which areas should be focused on? The most common areas are the ones labeled here in this diagram. The bathroom is probably the most common culprit when it comes to mold, followed by water leaks in the roof and walls. For home or building inspections, the three things you need to focus on the most, according to a very intelligent home remediator I know are:
- Measuring the moisture
- Finding the mold
- Assessing mycotoxins
There are multiple factors that will influence the growth of mold. Some of these include the temperature, humidity, the type of surface, and most importantly, how much moisture is available. The humidity and type of surface are factors that we have the most control over.
Here is a table from a study looking at mold growth in a water damaged building (Table 3 from Tuomi et al. Link). The takeaway from this study is that homes with walls that are made up of cellulose, synthetic material, or gypsum have a lot more mold and mycotoxins than homes made of plaster or mineral wood. The conclusion that I drew from this study seems counter intuitive, but it is that older homes are safer than newer homes. And that is exactly the feedback I’m getting from the remediation community – that they are seeing more mold in newer home builds than older homes. Newer homes are more often built with synthetic material and dry wall, where older homes more often have plaster walls, bricks, or stone.
When you do an inspection, the most important thing to know is how much moisture is entering the home. Moisture should be measured through several different techniques. Some of the easiest ways are using hydrometers and moisture meters. A more sophisticated way is to use infrared thermal cameras. These cameras will show you where a water leak is occurring, even if there is no outside sign (see Figure 1A and B).
The next step of an inspection is finding the mold. Here I recommend using our Environmental Mold and Mycotoxin Assessment (EMMA) (LINK). This test also includes mycotoxins, but I’ll get to that later. Testing for mold involves trying to find the mold spores. Many molds are not airborne, although their toxins might be, which makes air testing for mold spores not always useful. Many housing companies will pay someone to walk around with an air sampling device to find mold spores, which will often result in a false negative for a home.
Our PCR detection looks for the presence of 10 of the most toxigenic molds. Is this a table?
The qPCR method used in these assays utilizes the hybridization of a species-specific probe to a complimentary DNA strand to amplify and detect fungal DNA. The data generated for each specimen is plotted against a standard curve to calculate the amount of DNA present in the specimen (nanograms of DNA per milliliter of dust in PBS buffer). Collection of the sample is simple; it only requires a small amount of dust (about a teaspoon) or you could cut out a piece of the filter from your AC or heater.
The third and final factor with inspections is mycotoxins. We are the only lab that looks at environmental mycotoxins in buildings. With our EMMA test you get both the mold PCR and the mycotoxins along with it. This is important because there are instances where the mold might not show up, but mycotoxins will be detected. I can easily think of at least two instances where that could happen: The first is that some molds are extremely sticky and can hide behind walls, like Stachybotrys. This mold can easily be missed in a spore detection test but could be releasing mycotoxins. The second way you might see mycotoxins, but no mold is if a cleanup/remediation was not successful in removing the mycotoxins. Sometimes mold remediations only focus on the visual problems such as the mold and miss the deadly toxins that the molds leave behind. The residents might believe that the problem was resolved, but their symptoms don’t improve.
Finding a good remediator is incredibly important and the first step is to find one that provides accurate testing. On our website, we provide a directory of contractors that utilize our testing. You can search by zip code to find a home remediator close to your location.
The take home message for today is that testing for the home/office/school is just as important as testing the individuals that reside in them. Why spend thousands of dollars on doctors and treatments if you are just going to get sick again by returning to the infected building? Homes and buildings are like people and should be tested and treated as such. RealTime Laboratory is here to help you with both.