Posts filed under ‘Mold Testing’
Fungal Data Interpretation – Part II – Effects of Tossing a Moldy Apple Pie into the Trash Before Mold Air Sampling
This post is the second blog posting in a series based on information presented in a webinar by Dave Gallup, co-founder of EMLab P&K. The topic of the webinar was Fungal Data Interpretation. The two-hour presentation covered many interesting topics that are relevant to mold inspection and testing companies as well as the general public that are facing mold problems in their home or business.
One of the first points that Mr. Gallup made is the interpretation of the sample data that EMLab P&K provides must be combined with the on site mold inspection information. Trying to interpret fungal sample data from a mold inspection and testing project without also having field inspection information from a qualified mold inspector is highly problematic. In this blog entry I will focus on the second of several normal household scenarios that can drastically impact fungal sample data and could lead to incorrect interpretation of that data.
Scenario – “Effects of Tossing a Moldy Apple Pie into the Trash”
A group of EMLab P&K scientists studied the impact on fungal distribution in a normal home after the occupants tossed a mold apple pie into the kitchen trash. Here is the data set:
- The first air sample was collected in the home before tossing the moldy pie.
- The air sample contained numerous types of mold spores. I will focus on just one type, Penicillium/Aspergillus types (Pen/Asp).
- The spore counts of Pen/Asp found in this first air sample were within “normal tolerances” — they were lower than the corresponding spore counts found in the outdoor baseline sample.
- The second air sample was collected during the act of tossing the moldy pie
- The spore counts of Pen/Asp were significantly elevated compared to both the outdoor control sample and the first sample collected before the toss.
- This is how the data looked:
- Pen/Asp types: before tossing ~13 spores/cubic meter | during tossing ~ 1,000,000 spores/cubic meter!
If the on site inspector did not notice that there was moldy food in the trashcan (apple pie in this case) or had not asked the homeowner if they had recently performed any housekeeping activities such as cleaning out the refrigerator of moldy food, incorrect conclusions could have been made with respect to this project. For example the airborne Pen/Asp types prior to tossing were ~13 spores/cubic meter. After tossing the moldy pie into the trash, the spore counts of Pen/Asp were drastically elevated (over one million spores/cubic meter!). If the inspector did not know about the moldy food, these air sample results would be cause for real concern and unnecessary steps would likely follow (more testing, invasive exploration for mold, and the like). Armed with the knowledge that the client recently threw away moldy food, the inspector could either take that into consideration when analyzing the sample data or, better, not collect the sample for several hours after.
Many people place too much emphasis on the mold sampling aspect of our business. It is a useful tool, but it is only truly valuable in conjunction with the on site, visual inspection data.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending a webinar presented by Dave Gallup, co-founder of EMLab P&K. The topic of the webinar was Fungal Data Interpretation. The two-hour presentation covered many interesting topics that are relevant to mold inspection and testing companies as well as the general public that are facing mold problems in their home or business.
One of the first points that Mr. Gallup made is the interpretation of the sample data that EMLab P&K provides must be combined with the on site mold inspection information. Trying to interpret fungal sample data from a mold inspection and testing project without also having field inspection information from a qualified mold inspector is highly problematic. In this blog entry I will focus on the first of several normal household scenarios that can drastically impact fungal sample data and could lead to incorrect interpretation of that data.
Scenario – “Effects of Vacuuming”
A group of EMLab P&K scientists studied the impact on fungal distribution in a normal home after the occupants vacuumed their carpets. Here is the data set:
- The first air sample was collected in the home before vacuuming the carpet.
- The air sample contained numerous types of mold spores. I will focus on three types: Basidiospores, Cladosporium, and Penicillium/Aspergillus types.
- All of the spores counts found in this first air sample were within “normal tolerances” — they were all lower than the corresponding spore counts found in the outdoor baseline sample.
- The second air sample was collected during the act of vacuuming the carpet
- All of the spore counts were significantly elevated compared to both the outdoor control sample and the first sample collected before vacuuming.
- This is how the data looked:
- Basidiospores: before vacuuming ~70 spores/cubic meter | during vacuuming ~ 800 spores/cubic meter.
- Cladosporium: before vacuuming ~80 spores/cubic meter | during vacuuming ~ 1,000 spores/cubic meter.
- Penicillium/Aspergillus types: before vacuuming ~110 spores/cubic meter | during vacuuming ~ 1,100 spores/cubic meter.
- The third air sample was collected in the home 30 minutes after vacuuming.
- All of the spore counts were still elevated as compared to both the sample collected prior to vacuuming and the outdoor control sample, though not quite as high (about 50% as high as the during vacuuming sample) as the sample collected during vacuuming.
If the on site inspector did not notice that the carpet had been recently vacuumed (i.e. seeing the vacuum “tracks” in the carpet or notice the dusty smell or see the vacuum sitting out) or had not asked the homeowner if they had recently performed any housekeeping activities such as dusting or vacuuming, incorrect conclusions could have been made with respect to this project. For example the airborne Penicillium/Aspergillus types prior to vacuuming were ~80 spores/cubic meter. A half hour after vacuuming, they were ~500 spores/cubic meter which is approximately 6 times higher. In absence of the vacuuming, this could indicate a mold problem which would entail further investigation such as invasive investigation and could concern the homeowner. Armed with the knowledge that the client recently vacuumed, the inspector could either take that into consideration when analyzing the sample data or, better, not collect the sample for several hours after housekeeping activities.
Many people place too much emphasis on the mold sampling aspect of our business. It is a useful tool, but it is only truly valuable in conjunction with the on site, visual inspection data.
In my next posting related to Fungal Data Interpretation, we’ll see the impact on the airborne fungal distribution when a moldy apple pie is tossed into the trashcan!
It’s not everyday that people have to deal with a potential mold problem. For most people, the thought of a mold problem in the home or workplace is scary and confusing. There is so much information on the Internet, much of it is conflicting and lots of it is wrong. Questions that come to people’s mind’s when they believe they may have a mold problem:
- Will the mold make me and my family sick?
- Do I actually have a mold problem, or is it just “mildew”?
- If I have a mold problem, will it be expensive to diagnose or remedy?
- Is all mold toxic?
- Is all mold dangerous?
- What type of company should I use to inspect and test my home?
- How do I know who I can trust?
- Who is qualified to inspect and test my home?
- If I am a renter, who should pay for the mold inspection and testing?
Most of the questions above can be answered by a qualified, mold inspection and testing professional. One of the first and the most important steps is to find a qualified mold inspection and testing company. Here is what I suggest if you believe you may have a mold problem.
- If you see visible mold-like growth or believe a room has a mold problem, avoid that room if you can.
- Find a qualified company to inspect and test your home or workplace.*
- Follow the recommendations of the company as stated in their inspection report and perform any mold remediation work that they recommend.
*How do you find a “qualified” company?
- Ask friends and colleagues for recommendations.
- Search the Internet. Look for quality company websites that are informative and don’t use scare tactics.
- A qualified company will a) have a good record with the Better Business Bureau, b) carry quality certifications from organizations like the American Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC), c) carry General Liability Insurance and Professional Liability Insurance (also known as Errors and Omissions insurance). The latter is the most important and differentiates the true professional companies from “fly by night” organizations., d) have good reviews and testimonials from past clients, and e) utilize an independent, accredited lab for their sample analysis.
- Ask to see a sample mold inspection report. Does the company do good work? Is the sample report complete, easy to read, and contain color photographs?
- Look for referrals from The Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA) or The Amercian Council for Accredited Certification (ACAC)
- Does the company answer their phone? Do they respond to web and email inquiries in a timely manner?
- Is the person you speak to on the phone professional? Are they patient and do they spend time to answer your questions?
Try not to feel overwhelmed. Take it one step at a time. The key is finding the right company to help you.
Here are a few places to go to perform research for mold related issues:
Choosing a mold consulting company can be a difficult process; especially when you have health concerns regarding your indoor environment. You may be thinking to yourself…can I trust this company? Will they follow through with what they promise on their website or over the phone? Are they qualified to determine if I have a mold problem in my home or business? Are they going to use scare tactics to try to sell me something I don’t need?
When selecting a mold inspection company, be sure to ask, at minimum, the following questions:
1. Do you also provide mold remediation or cleaning services?
In my opinion, it is a conflict of interest to perform both the initial investigation/testing AND profit from the cleaning/remediation of mold. It is in your best interest to use an unbiased and neutral third-party for your initial investigation and testing. The bottom line is: your mold inspector should not profit from the discovery of mold.
2. Can you provide me with a past client referral list or client testimonials?
Quality companies value hearing back from their clients and they should have a long list of satisfied customers. Many even obtain personal statements from past clients who endorse their services. If the company you are considering cannot or will not provide you with past client testimonials, then consider continuing your search.
3. Are you a member in good standing with the BBB (Better Business Bureau)?
The BBB can be a great resource to locate quality, ethical and honest mold companies. Look for companies that have no complaints and a solid rating.
4. Are You Certified?
Most states do not require any formal certification or licensing to perform mold investigations and testing. However, there are organizations that provide independent certifications for mold investigation and sampling. The ACAC is the best of those organizations. The ACAC requires a minimum number of years of field experience, successfully passing a stringent certification exam, and obtaining continuing education credits annually. Make sure your mold professional is certified by a credible organization.
5. And finally, do you carry Professional Liability Insurance (Errors and Omissions insurance, commonly called E&O insurance)?
Most quality companies carry general liability (GL) insurance. However, E&O insurance is expensive and cost prohibitive for most mold inspection firms. The vast majority of mold inspectors do not carry this form of insurance that provides you with a higher level of protection.
Best of luck with your search for a quality mold inspection company. I hope these questions help.
Part of a proper mold investigation, is collecting ambient air samples in relation to suspect conditions within a home. This helps us determine if there are “suspect” or “elevated” airborne mold spore types and/or concentrations. This not only helps us in determining if hidden mold sources are likely, it helps us determine the overall impact mold is having on the environment and in turn allows us to give proper recommendations for remediation (the removal of mold).
To properly asses the indoor conditions, we must first collect an outside control, or baseline sample. This is necessary because we always have to remember that airborne mold spores are everywhere, so even a home that does not have a mold “problem” will have some mold spores within the air. For a sample to be considered “normal” it should be somewhat consistent with the outside control sample taken that at that same day and time. In general indoor spore counts should be roughly 75% of the outdoor counts and usually proportionately similar in terms of spore types.
We do get asked all the time though “well, why can’t we just use averages from previous samples to determine a baseline?” Great question, and at first glance it does seem like a reasonable method, but in reality it just doesn’t work that way. Averages are used to some degree in the analysis of air samples, but an average is just that, an average. The spore types and concentrations in our environment can swing drastically due to multiple factors that influence our environment. Mold is a living organism, and therefore it reacts to its environment conditions. So, if it has been wet and rainy out and the mold sources are, let’s say happy, then they may not be actively sporelating and releasing mold spores into the air. On the flip side of that, when conditions are dry, mold sources typically begin sporelating in an effort to spread out and find additional water and/or food sources. On windy days, we sometimes see very high spore concentrations. And when there is snow on the ground, we will typically see very low spore concentrations.
As a result of all of these influencing factors, it becomes apparent that averages just do not give us enough information to properly assess indoor airborne mold conditions. To fully understand if there is a mold “problem” within a home, it is important to have as much information as possible. And a big piece of information that helps us do that, is analysis of airborne mold spore concentrations as compared to an outside control sample. If you believe you have a mold problem, consider engaging a competent and certified mold investigation specialist to perform a thorough mold investigation and proper mold sampling.
The majority of our mold and moisture investigations are considered “non-invasive”. This means that our inspectors do not cut open walls and ceilings, we don’t remove bathroom or kitchen fixtures, nor do we lift carpeting or flooring materials. There are two primary reasons for this approach. Number one, if there is hidden mold, we don’t want to cause airborne mold spore contamination by exposing and disturbing the mold. Number two, performing invasive exploration can cause damage (intentional or unintentional) to a home. But, sometimes to fully understand a mold problem, or to be able to fully remedy a mold problem, invasive exploration is necessary. So, who should do it?
The best person to perform invasive exploration for mold is a mold remediation professional. They have the tools and expertise to place a testing area under containment using specific engineering controls. This containment will prevent the spread of airborne mold spores should mold be found during the exploration.
We will make the recommendation for invasive exploration for mold when we believe hidden mold is possible. For example, if during a typical mold inspection at a personal residence, we find an actively wet wall in a bathroom. We will recommend ambient mold air sampling and sometimes a wall cavity sample. If both of those samples are negative, we will recommend that the wall be opened (invasive exploration for mold). Since the wall is wet and sealed from the ambient air in the bathroom, it is possible that there is hidden mold in the wall even though the air sample was normal or negative. Should mold be found in the wall during the exploration, it will need to be professionally removed. If no mold is found, the source of water will need to be repaired, but no professional mold remediation is required.
Invasive exploration is also an integral part of professional mold remediation. If for example, we definitively discover a mold problem under a kitchen sink, we will recommend invasive testing under, beside, behind, and below that cabinet to look for mold that we cannot see in our visual investigation. This invasive exploration will continue to approximately 18 inches beyond the last visible mold growth and water damage.
Invasive exploration for mold is another important tool used in professional mold investigations. It is generally used to collect secondary data and is not always required as part of a professional mold inspection.
There are many misconceptions regarding mold. Here are a few more Common Mold Myths.
Myth # 4: Mold growth cannot be controlled in bathrooms
One of the most common areas to find mold is in bathrooms. The following are a few tips to prevent or significantly reduce mold growth in bathrooms:
- The first and most important preventative measure is to control moisture conditions. Showering and bathing produces high levels of moisture and if not properly vented to the exterior of the home through adequate mechanical ventilation, mold growth will likely occur. Bath fans should be quiet in operation to encourage regular use, properly sized for the dimensions of the room and should be operated for approximately 30 minutes after showering.
- Another preventative measure is to use a small squeegee or towel to remove the water from the enclosure walls and shower door after showering.
- Maintain grout and caulking conditions to prevent moisture intrusion, water damage, and potential microbial growth.
- Consider eliminating carpeting and wallpaper. Mold is commonly found behind wallpaper and under carpeting in bathrooms.
- Inspect areas below sinks and around toilets regularly for leaks. Do not put off repairing plumbing leaks or Mold growth could result.
Myth # 5: If I don’t see mold- then there can’t be a problem
Mold can exist in non-accessible areas of the home such as behind or under cabinets, below flooring, behind base trim, inside wall cavities, behind wallpaper and inside ceiling plenums. Use your nose… If you notice a musty or mold-like odor, it is possible that you have a mold problem. Microbial testing of the ambient air and inner wall cavity testing by a Certified Microbial Investigator is often needed to detect hidden mold conditions.
Myth # 6: If I have Mold- It’s my fault
The truth of the matter is that occupants can and do sometimes contribute to mold growth. For example, mold growth can occur if the indoor humidity levels become excessive. Excessive humidity often occurs due to the lack of proper ventilation when showering, cooking and doing laundry. Aside from that, if the indoor relative humidity (moisture in the air) is maintained between 30%-50% and you still have a mold problem, then the blame can often be placed somewhere else. Many times, a Mold investigation may determine that the cause of the mold problem is actually due to conditions such as, hidden water intrusion, plumbing leaks, roof leaks, and inadequate or nonexistent ventilation conditions. A specially trained Mold Investigator can often times detect those conditions that most commonly cause mold growth. Be proactive and enlist the services of a professional if you suspect a mold problem.
- Respiratory problems; including difficulty breathing, wheezing, shortness of breath;
- Sinus and nasal congestion and irritation;
- Irritation of the eyes — watery, burning, red;
- Sore and/or dry throat;
- Skin rashes and irritations;
- Problems with sense of smell;
- Typical symptoms normally associated with a cold or allergies; and
- Memory problems, odd mood swings, nose bleeds, body aches and pains, and fevers are occasionally reported in mold cases.
Mold exposure can also exacerbate other illnesses and conditions, including asthma. These symptoms are often worse for the young, elderly, or people with compromised immune systems.
If you have any of these symptoms and you believe they may be related to mold, it’s prudent to engage a mold inspection and testing professional to perform an analysis of your home and/or place of work.
Being in the mold inspection industry, we get asked all the time: “Is it good mold or bad mold”. To be honest, this is a tough question to answer. I think instead of looking at it as good vs. bad, it should really be lumped into 3 categories: Good, Normal, and Bad.
Let’s start with the good, shall we? Molds can be good when they are used for medicines, or in the production of certain cheeses, and let’s be honest, mold that is Outside our home is typically considered to be a good thing. So, most people don’t even notice mold when it’s good, unless they are reaching into the fridge for that stinky wine cheese they love so much.
Next, we come to normal molds. When talking about normal molds within the home, there are really two types. Airborne mold spores, and mold growth. When it comes to the airborne type, it is simply a fact of life that there is always some degree of airborne mold spores floating around in your home. They come into the home through any gap, penetration, open door, and even on our clothes from the outside, and are considered to be normal, as long as they did not originate within the home. Normal mold growth within the home occurs on a day to day basis. It could be that “mildew” in the corners of your shower, or that weird looking black stuff you see in your window track. What makes it normal, is the fact that it is growing on a non-sustainable food source, the surface is non-porous and can typically be cleaned away with normal housecleaning methods.
Now, for the fun part, Bad mold. To put it simply, mold growth within the home is considered to be a bad thing when it is growing on a sustainable food source, and is potentially affecting the air with what would be considered “elevated” mold spores which is quite a bit different than the normal airborne mold spores we talked about earlier. The food sources within a home are pretty numerous, and can include: Drywall, wood framing, wood subflooring, debris, contents, etc… What makes this a bad thing? Well, typically when conditions such as these start to occur, the proper removal of said mold is just a bit much for the average homeowner. Not only must the impacted materials be properly removed and/or cleaned, but the airborne spores in association with the mold must be addressed as well. The proper removal of a mold problem is a very technical process, and requires the right equipment, and is just not something that the average homeowner should take on themselves.
The first step a homeowner should take when they believe they may have a mold problem is to have the conditions assessed by a Mold Investigation Specialist. Through a thorough investigation and proper testing, they will be able to tell you if you have a mold problem or not. Or, if you really prefer the terminology, if it’s good mold or bad mold.