Air Sampling vs Surface Sampling

A lot of questions are fielded on which form of testing would be more suited for an individuals needs for their home.  But there is many factors that go into answering this question.  First let’s take a look into each form of mold testing.

Air Sampling’s function is to capture and quantify a broad spectrum of fungal spores (both culturable and non-culturable) present in the air. To assess whether the levels present suggest a fungal problem in the indoor locations. Spore trap samplers are capable of capturing a majority of spores and particulate matter in the air. Consequently, it is possible to accurately characterize problem environments where spores are present but either are no longer viable or are species that do not culture well.

Surface Sampling is taken by tape lift imprint, by swabbing the suspect surface with a culturette swab, or by submitting a bulk sample of the suspect surface. While culturing a surface sample may help resolve a specific identification problem, used alone such a culture may result in an inaccurate characterization of the surface sampled. A direct microscopic examination of a surface shows exactly what is there, without being affected by an organism’s ability to compete and grow on sampling media.

So without getting technical and making it too confusing, here’s some basic principles:

If you suspect mold but cannot see it, or are having respiratory issues in your home without the presence of mold, Air Sampling is beneficial.  If you see something on a surface that looks like mold but are unsure or want to know if your attic/basement joists have any growth, then Surface Sampling is the better choice.

Obviously choosing both is the ultimate option as it will better your chances of getting the most accurate test for any surface or situation.

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Proper Mold Inspecting

There’s many different sorts of mold tests from air sampling to surface and bulk lifts, which all depend on the situation of the property being tested.   But one thing that’s becoming more and more recurring with a lot of  mold testing contractors is testing for mold when visible mold exists.  As an example, let’s say a basement has mold on the drywall because the home owner explained there was previous water damage that was never cleaned up, which this example is actually true from a home we just visited.  The mold is on all the walls and in some spots three feet high.  A competitor of ours goes in and pushes for a mold test because they need to know the type of mold and to see if it’s throughout the house.  Now, although it may be in other sections of the home, why would anyone want to sample the air when there is prevalent mold growth in the basement?  The reason it shouldn’t be initially tested regardless of what mold inspector will try to sell you to line their pocket, is because the air quality in the basement could in fact effect the air quality on other floors of the home.  Hence, the test will be skewed because of the condition of the basement.  If there’s mold, there’s no reason to test for mold.

Now we’re all supposed to indicate that all mold is suspect until tested, but when it’s abundantly obvious, then there’s no reason to charge someone for a test to clarify the obvious.  And, like I mentioned, the air quality in the basement could in fact effect the sample collected on the next floor.  What would the proper method be without trying to charge for services not needed or three times?  You remove the mold in the basement, then perform a test not only to assure that the mold in the basement is rectified, but also to check the rest of the home without any influence.  Remember, most mold companies use testing as a way to make money and not for service, or to secure that they’re locked into a project, hence the reason for the push.  Mold Testing should be a service of clarification and assurance, not something just for profit.  So, don’t get oversold with companies trying to push a service on you that isn’t needed because they’ll tell you so.  You always have the right to either say, “No,” or “Let me get back to you,” so you can further research your options.

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Mold Inspection Scam

Recently, we were called by a customer who had concerns about growth in a very large garage. The two car garage extended over one hundred feet in length, and mold began to grow on the drywall ceiling due to some water infiltration and a much larger humidity issue. Her skepticism developed after she had hired another testing company to perform an inspection via air samples. When the test results came back they produced mold that I never saw in nearly 18 years and have performing over 1500 air tests personally. Now I can not go into detail because it would be unethical, but can tell you that a different person, a highly regarded hygienist, also saw the report and came up with the same conclusion as I did. The Stachybotrys results must have been tampered with because the volume collected, even confirmed by two other labs, is impossible. And why would someone tamper with results? Because they want a job. Their mistake was simply putting in too much of the specimen into the cassette leading to results which one lab said, were fifteen times higher than the worst homes tested in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. So it brings us back to a point I continually make when writing these type of blogs, do your Due Diligence and remember you really do get what you pay for.  And as for the contractor with the tampered results, they’re claiming lab error.  The finger pointing and potential litigation has begun.

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Culturable vs. Non-Culturable

Why Sample For Biological Materials?

The goal of biological sampling is to help determine whether the biological particles present in a particular environment are affecting or causing irritation in certain individuals. Sampling is also used to locate the sources of indoor microorganisms and facilitate an effective remediation. While we are typically surrounded by a wide variety of different microorganisms every day, sampling provides us with a method to establish in a scientific way whether the environment in question contains more organisms than would normally be present. There are numerous techniques that may be used to evaluate the level of indoor microorganisms. We believe, however, that scientific comparisons are only possible when measured volumes of air are sampled and when results of surveys are expressed in terms of volumetric measurements.

Culturable vs. Non-Culturable Methods

Currently, there are no widely accepted protocols or regulations regarding biological air sampling. In the absence of standards, we believe that common sense should prevail. We know that some bacteria and fungal spores can cause disease only when they are alive (viable), while others are capable of producing allergies or irritation even when no longer living. Also, while cultures may permit greater accuracy in speciating some fungal organisms present, spores vary widely in their ability to grow and compete on laboratory media. This may result in an inaccurate characterization of the area sampled. Therefore, a complete sampling protocol for the biological flora in any environment uses both a culturable and non-culturable sampling method. There are times when this is not possible due to time and budget constraints. In these cases, we currently believe that a non-culturable spore trap sample provides a more accurate “snapshot” of the air and is usually the best choice when only one sampling method can be used.

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Non-Culturable Air Sampling

Overview

Non-culturable spore trap samplers draw measured volumes of air through the sampling device for a specified length of time. The collection surface is a coated glass slide. Particles in the air (spores, dust, etc.) impact onto the sticky surface and are “trapped” for later analysis.

A general philosophy regarding the interpretation of biological air samples is formed primarily by two guiding principles. First, an effective interpretation is based on the comparison of indoor and outdoor samples. There are currently no guidelines or regulations to indicate “safe” or “normal” spore levels, however, we typically expect indoor counts to be 30 to 80 percent of outdoor spore counts, with the same general distribution of spore types present. And second, variation is an inherent part of biological air sampling. The presence or absence of a few genera in small numbers should not be considered abnormal.

Pros

Spore trap samplers are capable of capturing all spores and particulate matter in the air. Consequently, it is possible to accurately characterize problem environments where spores are present but either are no longer viable or are species that do not culture well (i.e. Stachybotrys). These are two situations where culturable sampling techniques, if used alone, may miss a potential indoor air quality problem.

Cons

While many mold spores have a unique morphology and are identifiable by direct microscopic examination, others do not and are more difficult to identify. These latter types must be counted in broader spore groups.

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Culturable Air Sampling

Overview

Culturable air sampling is one of the most common methods of volumetric air sampling. The sampler works by drawing measured volumes of air through an instrument that contains a petri dish (or dishes) with culture media. Spores that impact onto the plate are then allowed to incubate and grow, after which the colonies may be counted and identified.

A general philosophy regarding the interpretation of biological air samples is formed primarily by two guiding principles. First, an effective interpretation is based on the comparison of indoor and outdoor samples. There are currently no guidelines or regulations to indicate “safe” or “normal” spore levels, however, we typically expect indoor counts to be 30 to 80 percent of outdoor spore counts, with the same general distribution of spore types present. And second, variation is an inherent part of biological air sampling. The presence or absence of a few genera in small numbers should not be considered abnormal.

Pros

Culturable air sampling allows for the differentiation of Aspergillus and Penicillium (speciation when required). It also provides counts indicative of how many spores are viable and present in the air. It can also be used to provide a bacterial count.

Cons

Culturable air sampling methods require that the spores in the air are alive, survive the sampling process, germinate on the sampling media, and compete well with other species present on the growth media. Culturable air sampling does not indicate the presence of non-viable spores, which may also be capable of producing allergies or irritation. Culturable air sampling also requires five to seven days for incubation after the sampling has taken place.

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Mold & Clutter

Mold & Clutter

This is a picture of a bedroom which was turned into a storage room. Prior to picture being taken the room was filled with an immense amount of belongings and trash. Old articles of clothing, computers, toys and even empty boxes now filled the space to a height of nearly three feet. Once the items were removed, a severe mold issue was discovered. This photo should show everyone that having a lot of items pressed up against walls not only can be a fire hazard, but also will limit your view of just what may be happening behind.