New DNA Mold Testing Replacing Traditional Approaches
- by Karl
Mold and its health effects present a growing concern for home owners, physicians, real estate professionals and home buyers. Traditional mold inspection and testing has tried to meet this health concern by a visual inspection and the collecting mold samples by air, direct or cultured samples collected in a home. These approaches have significant limitations due to both human error, non-standardized and unreliable mold test data. For example, a recent study found that both home occupants and professional mold inspectors were unable to identify significant mold pollution 52% of the time. Further traditional air and direct mold sampling often fail to detect hidden mold, laboratory findings are not reliable and there is no standard for interpretation of results.
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In response to the short comings of traditional mold investigation and testing, EPA scientists (Haugland and Vesper, 2002) designed an alternative DNA-based mold analysis. The Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) was developed using mold specific quantitative PCR (MSQPCR). The ERMI test has now been licensed to about 12 private mold laboratories, and has been in active field use since 2007.
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To develop the ERMI, the EPA initial studies first determined, the concentrations of different mold species in “moldy homes” (homes with visible mold) and “reference homes” (homes with no visible mold). Based on those comparison results, mold species were selected and grouped into those with higher concentrations in moldy homes and those with lower concentrations.
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The ERMI test procedure simply involves the analysis of a single sample of dust from a home. The sample is analyzed using a highly specific DNA-based method for quantifying mold species. The ERMI report includes the detection and concentrations 36 mold species along with the ERMI value itself. This provides a single standardized number to rank the “moldiness” making it easy to compare the results to a national scale.
Using ERMI protocols, targeted mold species can be quantified bio-chemically. Mold species are divided into two groups by the ERMI. The first group of 26 indicator species represents molds associated with water damage and the other second group represents common indoor molds. The ERMI report includes the detection and concentrations of 36 mold species along with the combined ERMI value itself. This provides a rank of the “moldiness” to compare the results to a national scale, based on a national HUD survey of 1,096 homes. An ERMI score is used in conjunction with individual mold species quantifications to determine mold conditions. More recent research also considers the value of “group two” molds as an indicator of problem mold conditions.
The preferred method collects dust from a measured floor area with a dust sample collection kit. The dust sample will contain not only mold spores (like previous test methods) but also mold particles (which also cause negative health symptoms) that have settled out of the air onto carpet, floor or surfaces. The dust is then analyzed in the laboratory using a DNA-based technology called mold-specific quantitative polymerase chain reaction, or MSQPCR. The results of the test provide a scientifically derived value between about -10 to 20 that are compared to the national ERMI scale to determine the relative moldiness and average mold species levels of the sampled home or business. The ERMI is not meant as an instantaneous measure of moldiness, but a long-term history of the mold growth in the particularindoor environment.
In addition to the ease of taking only one sample, the ERMI offers several advantages over traditional mold screening methods. Carpet dust acts as a reservoir for both mold spores and particles this is more representative of mold levels over time versus traditional short term spore samples. Further, the use of a DNA-based method for this test allows for increased precision of mold identification as it is based on a biochemical assay using calibrated instrumentation.
The EPA is conducting onoing research that will link the ERMI scores to assessing health risks for susceptible individuals. This new scientific information, along with the national database is providing a more objective and standardized method for screening homes for mold. Ongoing research by Dr. Richie Shoemaker M.D. and others show promising patient outcomes utilizing ERMI testing data to prescribe medical interventions.
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Mold and its health effects present a growing concern for home owners, physicians, real estate professionals and home buyers. Traditional mold inspection and testing has tried to meet this health concern by a visual inspection and the collecting mold samples by air, direct or cultured samples collected in a home. These approaches have significant limitations…