Nothing is ever simple with Lyme, is it?! I am in the market to purchase a home, and it turns out, even this is impacted by Lyme. You see, I’ve come to learn that getting well from Lyme is nearly impossible if the patient is living or working in moldy environments. There are types of mold, you see, that release myotoxins into the air that actually suppress your immune system. Obviously this is bad for everyone, but it’s especially bad for those of us fighting infection.
To my knowledge, mold has not been a part of my Lyme illness to date. And I am by no means a mold expert. But I knew enough to be cautious about moving anywhere that would make it more difficult for me to get well, so I brushed up on some basics of mold testing. I thought I’d share what I’ve been doing to measure safety of prospective homes.
SELECTING YOUR TEST
Testing for mold is simpler than I thought. I am loving the dust tests from Mycometrics. You have two options:
- The ERMI test is the most comprehensive option, and profiles molds of all types. This test was designed to be used when you’re analyzing a building for the first time.
- The HERTSMI test looks only for certain types of mold MOST associated with water damage (NOTE: does not include humidity grown molds). This test was designed to be used to assess the completeness of a remediation project and should not be used when profiling a house for the first time.
UPDATE: Don’t make the same mistake I made. When I was house shopping, I began to run HERTSMIs to save money. My HERTSMI on a new construction home was very good, with a score of 4. I bought it feeling safe. But within 2.5 weeks of living there, I discovered the entire attic to be full of mold. I lost that home, all the money I put into it and literally all my belongings. I was homeless for 2 months and will have bad credit for 7 years. It was a $40,000 mistake I made trying to save a couple hundred bucks.
DO YOURSELF A FAVOR: RUN THE ERMI.
PREPARING YOUR TEST KIT
You can, of course, order the tests from Mycometrics. Or you could save yourself $50 by putting together your own kit. All you need is:
- An unopened box of Swiffer sheets
- An unopened box of Ziplocks
- A box of latex gloves
- A print out of the chain of custody form
- A print out of the credit card payment form
Once you have all the supplies, put on a pair of the latex gloves, and open both your boxes of Swiffer sheets and ziplock bags. Being careful not to contaminate your Swiffer cloth by letting it touch any surfaces, place one Swiffer cloth into one ziplock. I knew I’d be testing multiple homes, so I made 5 or 6 kits to start. Print off one chain of custody form and one credit card payment form to go with each bagged kit. You’re ready to head to your property!
COLLECTING YOUR SAMPLE
When you reach your property, get ready to play detective. First step, is to put on a fresh pair of latex gloves. Then, remove your Swiffer cloth from its baggie and search for dust. I like to take a little from each room of the property. You’re looking for OLD dust if you can find it. Trust me, it’s there. Run the cloth along tops of door jams, tops of picture frames, on top of water heaters, inside cabinets, behind the fridge, behind the stove… anywhere you can find it. Each time you take a good swipe of dust, move to a different section of the cloth. Once you’ve collected a good bunch of samples from each room, return the Swiffer cloth to the ziplock, press out the air and seal.
For each baggie, use a sharpie to write the following information directly on the bag:
- Address of location sample was taken
- Your name
- Your phone number
- Your email address
When you get home, fill out your chain of custody form and credit card payment forms and you’re all set!
Logistics: If you’re purchasing a home, timing is everything. I like to collect my dust sample as early as possible. Most agents were fine with me collecting dust during open houses. I’d simply say “Wow, this is a beautiful home, I’m very seriously considering an offer. I do have a mold sensitivity, do you mind if I collect a little dust to sample?” EASY!
It’s $44 to overnight the completed kit to Mycometrics. If it arrives by 10:30am ET, they can do a same day turnaround. 3-day and 2-day options are also available. Standard is 5-7 business days. So long as you get results within your inspection contingency window, you’re all good. I even had a property where I mold testing before making an offer.
INTERPRETING YOUR RESULTS
Depending on how fast you asked to receive results, you should receive an email from Mycometrics within a few days. Take a deep breath, it’s time to interpret your results. It’s good to know ahead of time that all dwellings contain mold, so presence of mold is NOT a deal breaker. What you’re looking for is how MUCH mold is there, and what strains are highest?
The ERMI test comes in a nice little report that will give you an overall score on the relative moldiness of your tested area. Scroll down to the bottom of your PDF, and look for the row labeled “ERMI (Group I – Group II)”. This is the magic number – it’s on a scale of -10 to 20. Dr. Shoemaker of SurvingMold.com encourages Lymies to live in places with a score below 2.0. Additionally, you should look to be sure your molds in group 1, and group 2, when combined is a score of less than 30.
Whether I got the ERMI or the HERTSMI test, I also like to do the HERTSMI scoring, which assesses the relative risk associated with the dangerous strains of mold that are present in your sample. Here’s how to do it: On your ERMI PDF, locate each of the lines associated with a particularly dangerous strain of mold. If you did the HERTSMI test, this is easy, as those are the only ones listed. Next to the name of each strain, look to see how many spores were found, and give yourself a certain number of points for each of the following:
According to Dr. Shoemaker, who developed this scoring model, your overall score falls into these categories:
<11 Statistically safe for re-entry for those with CIRS (chronic inflammatory response syndrome)
11-15 Borderline; clean first and re-test before re-entry
>15 Dangerous for those with CIRS. Do not enter.
Even though I don’t have CIRS, I was aiming for a HERTSMI score of less than 11. I figure, if it’s safe for CIRS folks, it’s safe for Lymies. But use your judgement here and talk to your doctor!
DECIDING WHAT TO DO
Deciding what to do with your results, is of course the hard part. Like anything Lyme related, it’s complex and ultimately a very personal decision.
The first place I went into had a low HERTSMI score, but a high ERMI (over 4.0). So it was overly moldy, but not especially dangerous. I thought about buying it anyway, but I had a Lyme friend who is mold sensitive peek her head in and she reacted… that was enough reason for me to back out.
The second place I tested was very high ERMI and very high HERSMI, especially in Stachybotrys chartarum which is the dreaded toxic black mold. I read later in the HOA meeting notes that the whole floor had flooded so badly some of the units had to be rebuilt… a fact that was left out of the disclosure document. Thank GOODNESS I tested!
The third property I tested was a more modern building (the previous two had been vintage) and it has almost no detectable mold. DREAM COME TRUE. Only I didn’t win the bid, darn it.
I’m currently mold testing on my 4th property. Fingers crossed! But overall, I feel like these tools are helping me make better decisions about where to live next, ensuring it’ll be a good move for my wellness.
I hope the info helps you in your own testing! Best of luck out there!