How do I do thorough mold/chemical testing in my home

Discussion in 'Fibromyalgia Main Forum' started by boltchik, Aug 4, 2008.

  1. boltchik

    boltchik New Member

    Hello all,

    I did a search for mold testing but maybe my brain is just too tired to sort through it. My question is this:

    Do I hire a competent company (and how do I know they won't just rip me off?) or do I do the testing for mold/chemicals myself? I am concerned about some type of toxins in my home. The reason I think this is because- I have become sicker since moving to this house 4 years ago. And I noticed the times I have gone on vacation since living here I have felt better. I got back yesterday and today I am nauseous and completely wiped out.

    I need to figure this out, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I do know there was water damage in the upstairs bathroom and one bedroom. We had all new flooring put in and no one said anything about mold.

    Thanks for listening! Kim :)
  2. Slayadragon

    Slayadragon New Member

    Hi Kim,

    You've asked a tough question but obviously a really important one.

    I went through this about eight months ago, when I suspected that there was a toxic mold problem in my home.

    It did indeed turn out to be stachybotrys (black mold), which is particularly damaging.

    My addressing the damage that the mold had done to my body has gotten me almost well from my CFS, too.

    This didn't involve just getting rid of the mold though. There's a lengthier process that seems to be involved. Several people from this board have done it successfully though.

    Anyway, back to your question.

    1. If you see any mold in the house, you can send a sample to be tested. One company that several people have liked is mould-works.

    Note that stachy (the most damaging mold) does not look much like mold. It's more likely to look like smears of dirt on the walls.

    2. If you don't see any mold, you can ask a remediator or inspector to come take a look.

    They know more about what mold looks like and thus can identify it when you might have thought that it was something else.

    They also may be able to point out places that they think mold might be. For instance, they can look for cracks in ceilings, leaks in windows, etc.

    Just because they don't see a place where mold could be doesn't mean there isn't some hidden though.

    3. Sometimes mold inspectors use a device to measure humidity, called a hygrometer. This is used to detect water leaks in walls, since it's assumed that mold might be growing there.

    However, stachy does not need any continual supply of water in order to grow. It does just fine with 60% or higher humidity.

    Thus, again, not finding water through the hygrometer isn't a sign that you don't have any mold.

    4. Some companies do air testing to look for spores of mold in the air.

    The problem here is that this almost never finds stachy spores, even when the mold is present in great quantities in the home.

    Stachy puts out heavy, sticky spores that rarely get very far off the ground. Instead, they fall to the ground, disintegrate into poison dust, and then spread all around.

    This poison dust does not look like a spore at high magnification.

    Another problem here is that stachy releases its spores in waves. One air sample study in the aftermath of New Orleans showed no stachy present for 23 3/4 hours and horrendous amounts during the other 15 minutes.

    Inspectors sometimes say that air testing is a proxy for stachy presence, since if stachy is around then other molds will be too.

    I find that argument suspicious from a logical point of view. The whole reason that stachy (and other poison molds) put out poisons is so that other molds are killed. That way, the stachy can take up all the space where those molds otherwise would be growing.

    Anecdotally, the air tests at my house showed only mildly elevated levels of molds. When the remediation was done, sizable stachy amounts were found.

    5. A test called ERMI analyzes dust from the house for mold DNA.

    This is a pretty new test, and I've yet to see anyone personally have it done.

    In theory, it works pretty well.

    It doesn't give a yes/no answer. Instead, it rates the presence of mold in your home compared to that in other homes. It also tells you which kinds of molds are present.

    Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker (author of "Mold Warriors") is the leading doctor in the U.S. with regard to mold. He highly recommends the test on his Web site,

    Dr. Mary Beth Short-Ray is an osteopath who suffered mold poisoning herself and has a practice devoted to the subject. Her book is called "Surviving Toxic Black Mold Syndrome."

    I highly recommend that everyone on this board purchase this book. People with CFS should at least consider whether mold could be an issue in their illness, and this book is quite accurate and easy to read.

    Dr. Short-Ray discusses the ERMI on her web site. Try googling the name of her book or her name to find the site.

    The good thing about this test is that it costs only a few hundred dollars and is recommended by Dr. S and Dr. S-R.

    I would like to hear more people's experiences with the test before giving it a real thumbs-up.

    If I had known about the test back in December, I'd definitely have used that to look for the problem. Certainly that's where I'd have started anyway.

    What I'm not sure about is how well it would work in my house now that it's been remediated. The house has been thoroughly dusted and cleaned several times, but getting out all of the old dust is a difficult thing.

    I'm planning to see Dr. Short-Ray in her office in Ann Arbor, Michigan, sometime in September. Hopefully she can give me her thoughts, since I'm not sure I trust the remediators'.

    Please let me know if you have any more questions. I will be more than happy to help with anything regarding mold, and so keep looking for me if you don't hear back right away.


  3. boltchik

    boltchik New Member

    Thank you so much for all of your thorough information. It is very eye-opening. I am going to print it out and reread it and research it. I went to Home Depot today just to get those home test kits to see if anything initially shows up. They are a petri dish set up and I am not sure how accurate they are but I thought I would start with something simple and go from there.

    From your info. I see that I may need some very in-depth testing and I will be able to bring up some of the info. you gave me to whoever I decide to do the testing. How were you able to find someone trustworthy, were they recommended to you?

    Now, come to think of it, I have seen dirt smears on the walls on occasion, but attributed that to my kids. I don't know if that was mold or not. Also, you say that stachy spores fall to the ground. Does this mean that inspectors can test the flooring? Can I maybe not sweep my floors for a week and then have them come test and the residual may still be there? Maybe it's not that simple.

    Thank you again for all of the time you took to post the info., I really appreciate it and it gives me so much to think about. Kim :)

    Also, I have a family of five. Is it possible that not everyone in the house will get sick if there is toxic mold? I was sick before this, but nothing even close to how sick I am since moving here. We moved here 4 years ago, it has gotten progressively worse, with the last two years becoming quite awful. My 7 yr. old daughter gets headaches and stomachaches a lot, and has a sluggish metabolism. My two sons and hubby seem okay, but we all have allergies.

    [This Message was Edited on 08/04/2008]
    [This Message was Edited on 08/04/2008]
  4. Slayadragon

    Slayadragon New Member

    Hi Kim,

    To do the Home Depot test, you need to have found something that seems like it’s mold. The bad molds would be inside the walls, on carpets, in your ducts system, or in the attic. If you’ve got any fake paneling or a stucco exterior, you should be very suspicious. (Fake paneling is very bad and should be removed routinely, I think. That’s where my big problem was.)

    The black-colored mold that grows on the grout in bathrooms is not dangerous, and so you don’t need to test it. However, if you’ve got a leak (or water marks) on the ceiling in the bathroom, suspect a problem.

    The Home Depot test is basically the same as the one from mould-works. Lisette/desertlass just had both tests done on some mold she found, and they both came up basically the same. So the Home Depot one may be more accurate than I would have thought originally.

    Lisette’s mold did come up as stachy. She did what is becoming the standard routine for CFSers who suspect mold toxicity: move out of the house for a few weeks to somewhere that “feels good”, taking absolutely nothing from the house with you. No books, no clothes, no watch, no computer, nothing. See if you feel different or better. Then reintroduce yourself to the house and see what happens.

    In Lisette’s case, she got so sick that she had to be carried from the house from her husband and put into a hotel room.

    Forebearance did the same drill and got even more sick from a mold re-introduction.

    Khaly, Erik and I all went through the same experience but eventually got a whole lot better than our baselines. Khaly and I went from 30-40% to 70-80% within 6-8 months. Josh/545, who was at 50% at the beginning, reports that he is at 90% after six months. I need to ask Erik to rate his progress, but I know he started out very low (10%) and now is basically healthy (close to 100%).

    I have never seen improvements like this from anyone else on this board, and thus think it’s important that people consider mold as a possibility. The first few months can be rough though, and the “starting over” deal is also rough. The rewards seem to be worth it though.

    WIth regard to remediation: I felt so uncomfortable with the remediators’ and inspectors’ lack of knowledge on this subject that I felt like I had to become an expert on it myself before I could trust anyone. The best reference I found on this was a book called “Mold: The War Within,” by Kurt and Lee Ann Billings. Their family was unfortunate enough to have gotten sick as a result of really acute mold exposure just after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and after they moved to another state it took them quite a while to get well again.

    The descriptions of their experiences and the treatments they used are somewhat interesting, but much more important are the interviews they did with a variety of mold experts, transcribed in the back of the book. I’ve yet to find anything nearly as comprehensive or useful. (Though after a whole lot of research, I’ve picked up some additional knowledge on remediation.)

    Anyway, Angie’s List was totally useless with regard to picking remediators or inspectors, since the people who rate the companies do not know enough to evaluate their work. Thus, I found about four companies and talked to them in-depth on the phone to see their knowledge.

    I found one guy who seemed like he knew a lot, and he came out to the house to do a visual inspection. He identified a number of areas that he thought were problems (under the paneling in the family room, a crack caused by a water leak 10 years earlier in the roof, some cracking in the closet near our front entrance).

    I would have liked for him to do the work, but felt uncomfortable that he wasn’t able to give me a ballpark price before starting. He told me that he could in all likelihood guess within a few hundred dollars, and I asked him to do that. Then I couldn’t get him to call me back. I think they were really busy, and I’m sure I could have gotten him to do it if I’d been more persistent.

    I found another company that I felt comfortable with in terms of knowledge and that gave me a price upfront for the work (including the stuff that the first remediator pointed out). They seemed to do a great job containing the areas during the work, which is really important. They were suspicious that there would be mold in the attic when it had been dry for a decade, but it turned out that there indeed was “really bad” mold behind two layers of drywall. Stachy is very evil stuff!

    I insisted that they run an ozone machine as well as a HEPA filter after the remediation. The guy was skeptical that ozone was important, but I had read some literature from the agricultural field that stated pretty clearly that high-dose ozone in animal feed neutralized mycotoxins. (The ag industry is the only one that cares about poison mold, due to the fact that its presence causes livestock to be less profitable.) So they ran their $10,000 machine for two days. This pretty much neutralized all the poison in the house, to the point that I barely noticed it when I re-entered. Unfortunately, after we started cleaning out the house, a whole bunch of the poison dust got stirred up and the house became bad again. I talked them into bringing the ozone machine back again, and it worked pretty well. That was only halfway through the cleanup process though. I wish I could get them to bring it back again, but the guy’s really hesitant.....primarily because it’s takes too much time for them to bring it over and then pick it up again.

    I’m actually tempted to buy an ozone machine myself and run it periodically wherever I’m living. The problem with CFS’ers and mold is that even when there’s no mold growing, our sensitivity is such that even small amounts of mold poison (such as what gets stuck to clothing etc. if it hits mold) can make us really sick and disrupt the healing process. Perhaps a regular dose of ozone would neutralize whatever mold poison got brought in and thus make our homes more livable. I’ve not done that yet, in part because I’m not sure that it would be appropriate to do it in the apartment where we’re living. High-dose ozone can kill everything (people, plants, animals, mold, bacteria), which is okay as long as there’s nobody in the house! An apartment building though....I don’t know. But I will look into it.

    Forebearance is at a point where her sensitivity is really intense, and so she had to be very careful in choosing a hotel. She said that the Holiday Inn Express that she chose ran their ozone machine for several hours before she moved in and that it helped a lot. I’m going to try to find out what kind of machine that the hotel used. It also is good to know that some hotels are willing to do this, since I don’t do well with most hotels. (Fancy hotels with centralized vent systems, e.g. most Hyatts, are totally impossible and should be avoided at all costs.)

    Dirt smears on the walls definitely are suspicious. If you see any now, that would be the first thing that I’d use your Home Depot kit on. A dirt smear in the laundry room of my house was the only evidence that we had a problem.....though by the time I found it, I’d become convinced that this was my issue as a result of reading the book “Mold Warriors.” The chapter on CFS describing erikmoldwarrior’s story (Erik Johnson) was especially useful and not hard to read.

    The part about the residual of the spores on the floors is exactly what the ERMI test is for. I think that you’re supposed to vacuum up dust and sent it the testing company, though I’ve not looked into it enough to find out. Very few remediators do this kind of testing, though a few do. You would need to ask in advance whether they do this sort of test. Otherwise I believe you can do it yourself.

    Dr. Shoemaker, who as far as I can tell is the person I’d trust most about mold, says that the ERMI test is quite accurate. I want to find out more about it before running it though.

    WIth regard to your question about your family....yes, what you’re describing sounds absolutely typical. Dr. Shoemaker (who’s evaluated something like 6,000 people with suspected mold poisoning) has concluded that people with certain genotypes have a much worse time with mold than do others.

    Poison mold in sufficient quantities will hurt anyone in the short term, and in fact is listed as a bioweapon by the CDC. This is powerful stuff.

    However, about 75% of people’s systems are capable of eliminating this stuff naturally. If there’s not a huge amount of mold, they may not even feel it. If their systems get overwhelmed, they may feel bad for a while but get better quickly when they remove themselves from the situation.

    About 25% of the population is unable to eliminate mycotoxins from their bodies very well. They get sick much more easily when exposed to moderate quantities and make much slower recoveries when removed from the affected building. Dr. Shoemaker recommends a particular detoxification agent (cholestyramine) to help those people to get over their mold poisoning problems. They get back to normal very quickly if they do that, he says.

    Then there’s 1-2% of the population that seem not to recover from mold poisoning no matter what they do (e.g. get away from mold or take detoxification substances). Dr. S speculates in his book that based on what he’s seen, these patients seem to be ones that meet the CDC criteria for CFS. Their chances of getting well aren’t very good, he says in “Mold Warriors.”

    Dr. S says that a genetic test developed for other purposes (organ transplants) does a really good job of predicting which these groups (non-mold susceptible, mold susceptible, “dreaded genotype” for CFS) a particular patient falls. This is called the HLA DR test, available through LabCorp. It’s very hard to get a doctor to agree to run it, but several people here have done so.

    Erik’s genotype is the worst possible one, called the “double dreaded genotype.” Nonetheless, he’s been able to get to pretty much full wellness through scrupulous mold avoidance. This is the path that Khaly, Josh, Forebearance, Lisette and I are following at present.

    I don’t think that my underlying sensitivity is as high as Erik’s, since I seem to be doing pretty well even though I’m not as scrupulous as he is. During two times that he hasn’t scrupulously avoided mold (during the original Incline Village “outbreak” where CFS was labeled as a disease by the CDC and then a decade later when he stopped being as careful), he got sick to the point of barely being able to walk. Dr. Peterson urged him to try Ampligen, an experimental and very costly drug. The mold avoidance got him back to a high level of health (at present pretty much 100%) both times. I’ve seen no other CFS sufferers recover their health to that extent, and certainly none of the Incline Village survivors got nearly as well.

    Okay, this is a lot of information. I just happen to be at a stage right now where I’ve become really convinced that this is of true importance for CFS sufferers and would like to see people at least start looking into it. You certainly caught me in the right week for me to write a long post.

    Soon I will write some general posts on the topic for the board, though it can be hard to get people who don’t already suspect mold as a problem to look into it. Most people seem convinced that CFS is an immune system problem and thus that they need to address bugs. And indeed, CFS sufferers’ immune systems are really messed up. This, the theory goes, is caused by the mold though. Mycotoxins have been definitively shown to affect Natural Killer Cell levels and functioning. The possibility that it also chews up Rnase-L has been acknowledged by Dr. Kenny de Meirleir, the acknowledged expert on this particular problem in CFS patients.

    Usually I wouldn’t give this much information to someone, but perhaps it will be useful for you to digest in bits over time. It’s a complicated subject.

    I’ll be happy to discuss this further in as much detail as you like. Feel free to keep posting on the board, or let me know if you want to write to me directly.

    Best, Lisa
    [This Message was Edited on 08/06/2008]
  5. ulala

    ulala New Member

    I live in the L.A. area and have had huge mold problems. I have had a great company come out and do air sample testing, tape lifts of dry wall, behind baseboards and vacuum samples of my personal property. They have come out at least 10 times and have also taken video. I have recommended them to my Realtor. She now only uses him to test properties before they're sold.

    Let me know if you would like his name.

    Best wishes!
    [This Message was Edited on 08/04/2008]
  6. boltchik

    boltchik New Member

    I have found your info. to be of extreme interest to me. I am open to any and all causes of cfs/fibro. I have definitely been diagnosed with fibro and suspected cfs although not confirmed.

    I wanted to thank you so much for taking the time to explain this in depth to me, although it is a lot to digest, it also makes sense. I am determined to gain as much knowledge as I can about this. My quality of life has been severely affected and now I fear that something may be wrong with my daughter. I have taken her to the dr. many times and they suspect food sensitivities. But as a Mom, I can't just sit back and take one opinion esp. when you see that that person's opinion, dr. or not, is not helping.

    I am going to let my husband read all of the info. you gave me and see what he thinks. I think it has taken him a while to realize how seriously ill I am at times. Especially when dr's don't have specific answers. This last year has been tough and he is beginning to see the extent of the illness and is starting to worry and trying to help seek more answers.

    I will let you know what happens with the mold tests. I am going to set them out in the morning and then it takes 48 hrs for results. With a recheck at 72 and 96 hrs. if nothing appears in the initial two day period.

    I am so tired it was all I could do today to drag myself to Home Depot to get them, but I am praying for strength to keep going and to get to the bottom of my illness and on to a healing path.

    I am so happy that you have been able to get better. You are a warrior yourself with all of the knowledge you have armed yourself with, good for you!!

    Thanks again for passing along this info. to me, it really is priceless for anyone who suspects mold. We will see what happens... Kim :)
    [This Message was Edited on 08/04/2008]
  7. boltchik

    boltchik New Member

    Thanks for your post! I am in Riverside County, Temecula. I would love the name of the company who did your mold testing. Maybe they have a company here, or they are willing to travel. It may not be too far for them. Thank you, I really appreciate it. Kim :)
  8. Slayadragon

    Slayadragon New Member

    So tell me again how the Home Depot test works? I thought it was for testing spots of mold (like the "dirt smears"), not something you left out.

    Also, if you want, feel free to write to me on my ya-hoo account (same name). It would be good to keep in touch in the event that you do go this way.

  9. boltchik

    boltchik New Member

    The Home Depot test is a petri dish set-up. You can test 3 ways, you can tape the dish (w/vial contents, that harden for the mold to grow on) against an open air vent, you can do air testing (which is what I am doing) or you can swab a visible mold sample and put it on the dish, have it grow and send in for analysis.

    I am going to put the open petri dish in the area I suspect mold (an upstairs bathroom) for one hour. You then close it for 48 hrs. and see if mold grows. If nothing grows, you check again at 72 and 96 hrs. to detect slow growing mold. If mold appears, you send it to the lab and they will identify what type of mold it is.

    I am doing it this morning, I should know in 48 hrs. or so if I have anything. Kim :)
  10. Slayadragon

    Slayadragon New Member

    Oh, when Lisette did that test, she used it to collect some of the mold she'd found. That worked out well.

    I have to say that I'm perplexed by the idea of trying to grow mold on the petri dish.

    Certainly, you should be able to get a lot of molds that way. Just, unfortunately, not the one that really matters (stachy).

    Stachy releases dormant spores, many of which fragment immediately. The purpose of these fragments is to kill off other molds in the area.

    The stachy spores themselves are sort of like damp's very hard for them to get going.

    Other mold needs just a little bit of water. It should land on your petri dish and grow fine.

    Stachy spores do not start growing unless there is a _whole lot_ of water. There needs to be water leakage or a flood that goes on for at least 24-48 hours.

    If the stachy spores do get that much water, they can start growing. Once that happens, they can keep going with no new water at all and only 60% or more humidity. This is way below the humidity that most mold needs to grow.

    Since they've cleared the area with poison, they often grow very fast as well.

    So anyway.....I find it hard to imagine that you're going to grow black mold (stachy) in that petri dish. That's not consistent with my understanding of how that mold works.

    And while it's possible that some other mold could be making you sick, I wouldn't bet on it. This seems to be the big one.

    Do the directions of your kit mention black mold (stachy)?

  11. boltchik

    boltchik New Member

    They direct you to their website and the mold you mentioned is the one they talk about. It is quite frightening the type of health problems that mold is associated with. They also describe the amount of water needed and humidity for it to grow, it is what you described. The website is prolabinc dot com. And then you click on the mold section and there are a couple of pages to go through. I hope mentioning the website is okay, it's a matter of info., not profit in this instance.

    Thanks again for the extra info. Kim
  12. Khalyal

    Khalyal New Member

    Thank you, Lisa, for putting this out so clearly.