Where Do I Begin?

You suspect mold in your home. Someone in your family has symptoms that baffle doctors. Where do you start?

Test your home before cutting into any drywall or lifting any carpet. Disturbing the mold spores can make a situation much worse.

Preliminary testing can be done with a simple moisture meter obtained from a local hardware store. Place probes in suspected wall to see if hidden moisture is present.

There are several options for testing. Mold plates found in hardware stores do not "pull" the air and provide a limited picture of your air. A toxic mold issue can easily be missed when using this product.

Initial testing can include an ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) test. This involves a dust sample. Labs which offer this service include EMSL Analytical, EMLab P&K, and Mycometrics.

The ERMI kit offered by EMSL has a 5-day turnaround time and costs $165. Click here to order online, or call 1-800-220-3675.

Mycometrics offers the simplest form of ERMI testing, using a Swiffer dry cloth. Contact their lab directly at (732) 355-9018 to learn more.

For more information on the ERMI testing method, see this post titled How To Do an ERMI Mold Test.

Another option is an air test, which is less optimal than a dust or tape sample. However, when taken in conjunction with dust samples, it can be a valuable tool.

A third option is a tape sample. This can be used if the mold is visible. EMLab P&K charges $30 per sample, with a $50 minimum. Click here to see more.

A fourth option is a combination of carpet dust samples, air samples, and tape lifts done by a hygienist. If you believe litigation will be involved, it is important to hire a hygienist.

Questions to ask before you hire a hygienist:

1. Do you believe mold is harmful? The answer must be yes.

2. What constitutes a "safe" level of mold? In an air sample, mold counts should be equal to or below outdoor counts. There should be no stachybotrys. Not one spore. Aspergillus should be present only at negligible levels. The standard in Belgium requires no more than 2 1/2 percent aspergillus in the total count. Our hygienist cleared our home with 40% aspergillus. I wish I had known to look for this.

3. Can I see the report? Do not rely on a hygienist's word. It's important to see your counts for yourself. Especially when it comes to levels of aspergillus.

If your symptoms are severe, consider leaving the environment to see if you feel better.

The cost associated with mold testing is often a stumbling block, but it can save you thousands of dollars later. And think of what you would save if you have this kind of test done when buying a home! Our family's story is proof of this.

Where do you begin medically? You can take the VCS test available through Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker. This is an affordable way to determine if mold exposure is making you ill. There is a urine test available through RealTime Labs. This urine test is also available through Direct Laboratory Services, Inc. Look for the aflatoxin, ochratoxin, and tricothecene tests under the Allergy category.

It can be difficult to find a physician who understands toxic exposure. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has a list of doctors who may or may not be familiar with toxic mold. The American Board of Environmental Medicine is preparing an Internet list of physicians. Another option is the Institute for Functional Medicine. The website Truth About Mold offers this list of physicians, mold experts, and attorneys.

The website Surviving Mold offers a list of certified physicians as well.

If you have a primary doctor willing to consider mold exposure as a cause of illness, ask for specific labwork such as c4a, VEGF, MSH, and leptin. Or ask for the full set of labs. Alternative health care offers a wide range of diagnostic and detox options, as well.

The mold journey is a daunting one, but knowledge is power. It is better to deal with mold than ignore it. Our story is extreme. I know of "happier" mold stories where mold was suspected, testing was done, and remediation performed. No one got sick, because the mold was dealt with quickly and thoroughly. I know of others who suspected mold and found nothing harmful.

We spent eight years without the knowledge that our home was making us sick. We've spent the time since vacating our home (October 2008) with it. Believe me, it's much better to choose knowledge. It's painful, but with truth, there is freedom.

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