Understanding Mold Testing: Spore Traps, ERMI, EMMA, and HERTSMI-2

In mold detection and assessment, several prevalent methodologies emerge as primary tools: Spore Trap Air Sampling, ERMI, EMMA, and HERTSMI-2. The nuances and applications of these methods often spark curiosity and questions, particularly among those advised to undertake such testing due to health concerns.

Spore Trap Air Sampling: The Standard Approach

Spore Trap Air Sampling is a widely accepted standard for mold detection in residential and commercial buildings. This method captures airborne spores, without relying on settled dust or DNA analysis. Air is drawn through a special cassette for a set duration, trapping spores on a glass slide for microscopic examination. This analysis identifies the types and quantities of spores and offers an immediate snapshot of the indoor air quality.

A critical aspect of Spore Trap testing is comparing indoor spore counts with outdoor levels to identify significant discrepancies that might indicate an indoor mold issue. Often this test will be complemented with a visual inspection and moisture assessment, aiding in locating potential mold sources and active moisture issues.

The Origins and Purpose of ERMI Testing

ERMI is an acronym for Environmental Relative Moldiness Index. Initially devised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a tool for research, ERMI has stirred interest beyond its intended scope. It's important to recognize that ERMI's development was aimed at something other than public or routine use in homes, schools, or other buildings. The EPA has explicitly stated that ERMI remains experimental and lacks validation for widespread public application, especially in medical diagnostics.

This does not mean that it cannot or should not be utilized by an individual who knows how to interpret the results. It just means that it does not have the research support for use in public applications.

What is ERMI?

ERMI involves analyzing dust samples, usually from carpeted areas, for DNA traces of mold. This method identifies the species in the collected dust, offering a historical record of all molds (from a list of 36 types) that have existed in the sampled environment. These species are categorized into two groups: those indicative of mold-damaged homes and those typical in non-mold-damaged homes. The ERMI score is a numerical representation derived from the difference between these two groups, based on an initial study of 1096 homes across the United States.

ERMI Sampling and Limitations

The dust collection for ERMI testing can be executed through a wipe method or a dust-collecting filter attached to a vacuum. However, it's crucial to note that ERMI is designed explicitly for vacuum samples from carpeted areas, primarily in living and sleeping spaces. These samples are then sent for DNA analysis to a certified lab. While ERMI can provide insights into historical mold presence, it doesn't pinpoint the mold's source, which is vital for remediation efforts.

ERMI and Air Sampling: A Complementary Approach

While ERMI provides a historical perspective based on carpet dust analysis, air sampling gives a more current view of the airborne spores. Many professionals, including those at Expert Mold Test, recommend conducting both tests to understand a building's mold situation comprehensively.

EMMA Testing: Diving Deeper into Mold and Mycotoxin Assessment

The EMMA (Environmental Mold and Mycotoxin Assessment) test is similar to the ERMI test in many ways. Both involve collecting dust samples from the environment and being examined by a laboratory. However, EMMA is a more advanced method for detecting mold and mycotoxins indoors. Unlike traditional mold testing methods, which may focus on identifying mold species through air or surface sampling, the EMMA test goes a step further by also detecting the presence of mycotoxins. 

Key aspects of the EMMA test:

EMMAs Strengths: Mycotoxins Detection: Mycotoxins are toxic compounds produced by certain types of mold. They can be harmful to humans and animals, even at low concentrations. The EMMA test is designed to detect these toxins, providing a more comprehensive assessment of the health risks associated with mold exposure in a given environment. In addition to mycotoxins, the EMMA test also identifies the specific species of mold present. This is important because different mold species have different health implications, and knowing the specific types can help in formulating effective remediation strategies.

By combining mold species identification with mycotoxin detection, the EMMA test offers a more thorough understanding of the mold-related health risks in a building. This is particularly valuable in situations where individuals are experiencing health issues that may be linked to mold exposure. The results of an EMMA test can be crucial for healthcare providers in assessing the health impacts of mold exposure on individuals, especially those with mold sensitivities or compromised immune systems. EMMA's ability to detect mycotoxins makes it particularly useful in situations where there is a concern about the health impacts of mold exposure, especially for those with mold sensitivities or immune-compromised conditions.

One other area that the EMMA test excels is in comparing historical data vs. current risk. ERMI is more about understanding the historical presence of mold, while EMMA gives insights into both the current and past presence of mold and the potential health risks due to mycotoxins.

The decision between ERMI and EMMA testing can depend on the specific requirements of the assessment. If the concern is primarily about identifying the types and quantities of mold present, ERMI might suffice. However, if there is a concern about the potential health impacts due to mycotoxins, EMMA would be the preferred choice.

In conclusion, spore-trapping, ERMI, and EMMA are all valuable tools in mold assessment, but their applications differ based on the scope of analysis and the specific needs of the assessment. While ERMI is focused on identifying mold species, EMMA provides a more comprehensive view by also testing for mycotoxins, thereby offering a better understanding of the potential health risks associated with mold exposure.

Dr. Shoemaker’s Preference: The HERTSMI-2

Dr. Ritchie Shoemaker, a medical doctor and world authority on mold assessment and treatment, prefers a test called the “HERTSMI-2 test”. HERTSMI-2 is an acronym for Health Effects Roster of Type-Specific Formers of Mycotoxins and Inflammagens - Second Version, is a mold testing method developed as a more streamlined version of the ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) test. This test is specifically designed to evaluate the health risks associated with mold exposure in indoor environments.  Similar to ERMI, the HERTSMI-2 test typically involves collecting dust samples from the environment, usually from indoor living spaces. These samples are then analyzed in a laboratory for the presence and quantity of the specific mold species.

Key features of the HERTSMI-2 test:

Focused Mold Species Analysis: Unlike ERMI, which tests for 36 different mold species, HERTSMI-2 focuses on five specific types of molds that are known to be particularly harmful to human health. These include Aspergillus penicillioides, Aspergillus versicolor, Chaetomium globosum, Stachybotrys chartarum, and Wallemia sebi.

Each of the five molds in the HERTSMI-2 test is assigned a score based on its quantity in the sample. The cumulative score can then assess the potential health risks associated with environmental mold levels. A HERTSMI-2 score <10 is indicative that the building is safe for (re-)occupancy.

The HERTSMI-2 score is particularly useful for individuals with mold sensitivities, Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), or other health conditions that may be exacerbated by mold exposure. The test can help determine whether a particular environment is safe for these individuals.

Since HERTSMI-2 tests for fewer mold species compared to ERMI and does not assess for mycotoxins, like the EMMA, it is generally simpler and more cost-effective. This makes it a more accessible option for individuals and professionals needing a quick and more affordable assessment of mold-related health risks, in exchange for comprehensiveness.

The HERTSMI-2 test can still be used both for initial mold assessment and as a clearance test after mold remediation to ensure that the environment is safe for occupancy, especially for individuals with heightened sensitivity to mold.

The Role of the Mold Assessor

No single test can definitively label a situation as a mold "problem." This is where the expertise of a licensed mold assessor becomes indispensable.  An expert-performed mold test can navigate the complexities of mold testing, tailoring the approach to the unique needs of each case.

The Big Picture in Mold Testing

Understanding the implications, limitations, and appropriate applications of ERMI and Spore Trap testing is crucial for accurate mold assessment. While ERMI offers a glimpse into the past, Spore Trap testing provides a snapshot of the current air quality. Together, they form a comprehensive toolkit for mold detection and assessment, guiding effective remediation and ensuring healthier indoor environments.

Dr. Antonucci
Dr. Matthew Antonucci
Doctor | Educator | Researcher
Dr. Antonucci is an experienced chiropractic neurologist, board certified in functional neurology and multiple sub-specialties, a researcher, and an international lecturer, currently seeing patients out of Minneapolis, MN. He trained extensively under Prof. Frederick R. Carrick, maintains an active private practice with licenses in multiple states, and has provided breakthrough neurorehabilitation and performance training to thousands of patients. He consults with several NFL and NHL franchises on performance training and concussion. His work has been featured on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS, Fox News, and more. He has delivered more than 11,000 hours of presentations, both nationally and internationally, on behalf of the Carrick Institute. Most importantly, he is a loving husband and the father of five amazing boys, whom he hopes to inspire to follow in his footsteps.

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