By Cheryl Ciecko, March 12, 2019

CherylCiecko Inc.

Question: Can someone supply some scientific articles that explain why air testing is worthless?

“We have a high ERMI and HERTSMI, but our mold inspector says the dust test is inaccurate and the air test is better.  We did an air test and no spores were found. This has unfortunately reinforced my family’s view that this “mold business is all in my head.”

Answer:  Air testing is not flawed IF done correctly, but like dust testing (ERMI or HERSTMI) air testing is just a screening tool and NOT definitive.   Know that dust testing is only considered as a research tool, by the EPA (who developed it) and cannot be used legally in many jurisdictions.

The big IF is whether air testing is done properly.  My research suggests that it is often done incorrectly, even related to the equipment involved.
Visual inspections are necessary and sometimes are more  productive than testing to determine potential mold exposures.  Recently, I had a client with a significant roof leak and apparent water damage obvious to see.   The elderly clients, a husband and wife, were both experiencing increased memory disfunction as noticed by their adult children.  Both dust and air sampling came back negative. These negative results caused many family discussions and resistance related to the course of action to take. The precautions necessary for mold remediation are more expensive than not taking precautions.  

Remediation precautions were chosen against the judgement of many family members based on the air and dust sampling results alone. Fortunately, the obvious signs of water damage were compelling enough to allow for mold precautions to be chosen. Ultimately lots of mold behind the ceiling finishes was found, despite the test results, confirming that both the air samples and dust samples either just missed the mold or they were flawed in some way.

For more science related to mold and dampness in buildings and potential health effects see this past blog post:

Other Science Based Resources

Dampness-Related Health Risks

Indoor dampness or mold in homes, determined visually or via mold odor, is associated with increases in asthma exacerbation, cough, wheeze, upper respiratory symptoms, asthma development, shortness of breath, ever diagnosed asthma, respiratory infections, bronchitis, allergic rhinitis, and eczema. Meta-analyses of published literature often indicate 30% to 70% increases in the prevalence rates of these adverse health effects in homes with dampness and mold. High indoor humidity in homes increases the number of house dust mites present and the allergen from these mites is associated with increases in asthma and respiratory health effects. Dampness and mold in work places and schools are also associated with increased respiratory health effects. The specific agents, e.g., molds, bacteria, or organic chemicals, causing the health effects of dampness and mold are uncertain.

WHO Guidelines for Dampness and Mould   

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This document provides a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on health problems associated with building moisture and biological agents. The review concludes that the most important effects are increased prevalences of respiratory symptoms, allergies and asthma as well as perturbation of the immunological system. The document also summarizes the available information on the conditions that determine the presence of mould and measures to control their growth indoors.

WHO guidelines for protecting public health are formulated on the basis of the review. The most important means for avoiding adverse health effects is the prevention (or minimization) of persistent dampness and microbial growth on interior surfaces and in building structures.

Mold research and articles Science based article on water damaged buildings health effects.
Rutgers scientist from Louisiana regarding VOCs due to mold:

Air Testing Flaws