If there has been a leak or a flood, or there is a “musty smell” emanating from one part of a building, it is important to determine if there is an indoor source of mold. Most often this starts with a mold inspection and perhaps some mold testing.
Other times mold assessments must include mold lab analysis in order to identify the notorious “toxic black mold,” Stachybotrys, or to determine what parts of the building have been cross contaminated with mold spores during mold remediation, or to determine if an area within containment has been properly cleaned during an abbreviated mold survey known as “mold clearance testing.”
Mold testing and mold air quality test is an art and science. Many people ask for mold testing. In fact, experts do not always recommend spending money and time on mold testing. But there is a time and a place for strategic sampling plans.
Any qualified industrial hygienist or mold inspector will confirm that a mold inspection is top priority. By using a flashlight, IR camera and moisture meter, two eyes and a nose, a good mold inspector can usually tell you whether mold is present, and often he or she can draw conclusions as to whether it could be toxic mold. Sampling in the absence of a thorough moisture and mold inspection is not recommended, and the data collected from such sampling is missing context and next to meaningless.
Healthy Building Science advocates the following steps:
- Qualified, professional mold expert provide thorough moisture and mold inspection of building.
- Formulate hypothesis as to presence of moisture, sources of moisture, and extent of mold damage.
- Determine if sampling would add value to the mold assessment, or not (skip to #6, if not).
- Develop sampling plan to test hypothesis.
- Sample and review data.
- Report on findings from inspection, hypothesis developed, sampling results, and conclusion for next steps.
If your mold inspector doesn’t offer a comprehensive moisture assessment, pushes a lot of mold testing, or does microbial testing and only shares the lab results without a clear interpretation of their meaning, they are not providing value or helping your cause. Unfortunately, the do-it-yourself petri-dish style testers are equally worthless in the absence of a professional mold investigation.
Mold testing is useful for:
- Determining relative toxicity of mold species in presence of symptoms or sensitive populations,
- Establishing a baseline prior to remediation,
- Determining the scope of mold contamination,
- Clearance testing after remediation to confirm the area is clean, and, last but not least,
- Peace of mind for those really concerned.
Mold Testing Methods and Strategies
Most mold consultants will perform a mold survey that includes some form of microbial lab analysis. Like testing for any pollutant, there myriad ways to collect samples and have them analyzed in the lab.
Here are a few of the more common testing methods:
- Spore trap: A known amount of air is drawn over a greased slide. The slide is analyzed by a mold testing lab technician who can extrapolate a “spore per cubic meter” number for each sample. Spores can be identified to the genus level, but not to the species level. Penicillium and Aspergillus cannot be distinguished between each other in this microscopic analysis. Comparing indoor samples to other samples from outdoors and elsewhere indoors can help a mold expert draw conclusions about a building.
- Bulk mold testing: A tape lift or swap or bulk building material such as a small sample of drywall can be analyzed through a microscope. This mold testing method has the same limitations as a spore trap.
- Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) or Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR): This method utilizes microbial DNA analysis to identify molds to the species level, but only a relatively few species of mold have been catalogued so unfortunately this rapid testing method can miss the majority of molds present. Many environmental doctors and naturopaths are familiar with this method and it has gained more traction in recent years.
- Culturing mold: Viable mold spores can be sent to a mold testing lab to be cultured. The spores are placed on petri dishes with a selected growing medium, sufficient moisture is provided and the temperatures are regulated to simulate optimal growing conditions. Some spores may be present (and toxigenic and allergenic) but not viable and therefore will not grown and colonize. Mold colonies that do form can be identified down to the species level. This form of analysis takes the longest compared to all options presented here, and fewer mold testing companies are offering viable mold testing.
Mold Test Benefits
When it’s needed, it’s needed. Wether mold tests are for clearance testing, to determine the extent/type of contamination, or simply to provide peace of mind – sometimes it’s the only way to add a level of certainty that is otherwise impossible without official lab analysis.
Water Damage and Mold Survey Process
Healthy Building Science will meet you onsite. We are courteous and considerate of your space and careful not to track in dirt, etc. We are careful not to spread spores and cross-contaminate spaces. For mold and moisture inspections we prefer to inspect the whole building, and we take mold samples only if we believe it will add value for our client. We email or mail our report and follow up with a phone call to answer any outstanding questions.
In some instances HBS writes a Mold Remediation Protocol (MRP) outlining requirements for the safe removal of mold from a building. Mold Remediation Protocols are very detailed instructions that include safety requirements and scope of work for your specific project. Our MRPs are designed in accordance with industry-accepted standards (IICRC S520 Mold Remediation Standard).
Mold Clearance Testing involves mold sampling before and after mold remediation. Pre-mitigation samples quantify mold spore counts, identify any particularly virulent species, and creates a baseline for remediation. The post-mitigation “clearance” samples confirm if mold remediation was performed properly and the space was thoroughly cleaned before containment is taken down.
We provide mold testing and mold surveys to clients located in San Francisco, Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Marin County, Napa, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County, Solano County and Sonoma County.
Bay Area Mold Testing Case Studies
- Walnut Creek mold testing for multi-family building in retirement community
- Santa Rosa mold inspection for school
- Fremont mold survey for manufacturing facility
- San Rafael mold expert for product manufacturing and bottling facility
- San Francisco mold consultant for high-end custom home
- Oakland commercial mold testing
- San Francisco mold inspection for school
- San Jose mold inspection for data center
- Berkeley mold survey for medical office building
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