How to Test for Mold and Get Rid of It From your Home: A Q+A With Michael Rubino

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Mold can be a very serious health risk when it’s in our homes, but how do we know if we have concerning levels of mold and what can we do about it?

I chatted with Michael Rubino, a mold remediation expert, to share the what, why and how of mold identification and remediation. This blog is a Q+A summary of our conversation.

You can also listen to the full conversation on Episode 59 of The Missing Pillar of Health Podcast on your favourite player or tap play below.

Q: Why Did You Start Focusing on Mold Remediation?

A: I’m a second generation contractor. Right around hurricane Sandy (which was a big superstorm that affected the Northeast where I’m originally from) was when I really started to develop this passion specifically for mold, because that was the first time I really started to see people get sick. I decided the industry was missing the boat on how we actually remove mold from the molecular level, so that it doesn’t impact people’s health.

I started my seven year journey, researching and developing better techniques in the mold removal space. That then led to the creation of All American Restoration, which is our country’s first remediation company for immunocompromised individuals.

This in turn led to the Mold Medic book because I wanted to really get what was in my research and in my head out on paper so that other people can benefit from it. I also realized I’m not going to fix this problem one house at a time. We really need to get new standards and new information out there.

Q: What is mold and is it all harmful?

A: Broken down simply, mold is a blanket term used to describe over a hundred thousand species of fungus. When you look at the word mold, it can be used in so many different ways, depending on what type of mold it is.

It’s important to look at it that way first, because when you start asking how mold impacts your health, then we’re getting down to the individual species and the amounts.

We’ve heard alarming statements such as “mold is ubiquitous” or “mold is everywhere”, so how can we ever really stay healthy or prevent ourselves from having mold? But that’s not helpful.

The goal is to make sure that the quantities and types inside the home are less than outside the home.

Q: Can you talk about the difference between mold and mycotoxins?

A: Mycotoxins are a byproduct produced by mold colonies. It’s a self-defense mechanism for mold.

I like to look at mold the way I look at a weed, because it has roots called Hyphae and seeds called spores. It reproduces and seeks out moisture, which it needs to survive. So you can have different species of mold present that could be growing simultaneously.

Those species are going to try to kill off one another so they can take over the area. Some molds do this by producing mycotoxins. Just like the name implies, these are toxins and if they come into contact with your skin or you breathe them in, they can cause adverse health reactions.

Q: Are both mold spores and mycotoxins harmful?

A: Yes, it’s both. Some mold spores may be either allergy, pathogenic or toxigenic. Black mold is one example (it’s real name is Stachybotrys Chartarum) of a toxic mold.

Other molds might be allergenic, like aspergillus penicillium.
To keep it simple: if you have mold actively growing inside your home, figure out what caused it to grow. There has to be some sort of source of water, so fix that, remove the mold safely and properly

Q: How can you tell if you have a mold problem in your home?

A: Sight and smell are pretty obvious. Discoloration on your ceilings, drywall, on your caulking and sealants around wet areas like kitchens and bathrooms are a good sign that there are some issues there.

There’s a neat trick which is not scientific at all, but it’s a theory of mine:

If you go over to your toilet tank and you pull off the cover and you look at the underside of the lid, or if you look inside the toilet tank, and if you see mold, there’s a pretty good chance that there’s an abundance of spores somewhere in the environment.

It’s not full-proof and it’s not perfect, but it’s a sign for me to get an inspection.

But from a testing standpoint, you can do an ERMI test. It’s a decent entry-level test you can do at home and it tests the dust to see what mold particles are in the dust.

It was developed by the EPA by analyzing 1096 homes, and allows you to compare spore counts to what was found in those homes to determine which types of mold might be a problem for you.

A mold-free home doesn’t exist, but you do want to have an environment that’s under control where mold can’t grow once it starts growing, that’s when there’s a problem.

Q: Should you get your home professionally tested?

A: Once you have an idea that mold is likely a problem, you should bring in a professional testing company to identify where the mold is coming from. Unfortunately, most of the time it’s behind the walls.

A good testing company will have tools and equipment (like infrared cameras) to try to source exactly where the problems are and rule things out. The idea is to identify where the weak points of the home are. This should include:
– Walking around the outside of the home.
– Looking at every nook and cranny on the inside of the home.
– Checking HVAC equipment.
– Etc.

It’s a process of looking for a potential area of concern and testing. The laboratory data will tell you if it’s elevated or similar to outside. It can be a bit trying to put a piece of a puzzle together when you don’t even know what the picture looks like, but that’s the job.

Q: What are some of the key questions that people should ask when interviewing inspection and remediation companies?

A: The first thing that I would do is I would interview an inspector and a remediator separately. I don’t think it should ever be the same person (and in some states, it’s illegal to do both). I think that there’s a conflict of interest there.

Hire one person that the only interest they have is making sure they’re identifying the problems inside that could be causing you adverse health reactions. Then you have a person that’s going to take that data and actually be able to fix it.

And then the nice part about this checks and balances system is that the person who found the issues is going to come back and verify that the other person did it properly. Make sure you have an unbiased project and that the product is done right.

I’d also ask the testing company and remediation companies if they typically work with immunocompromised individuals – even if you’re not immunocompromised yourself. This allows you to weed out people who don’t necessarily have the health effects in mind.

If they don’t think mold impacts your health, they might not be a company you’re looking for. I don’t think that they’re going to be as thorough as one would like, and making sure that it’s fully eradicated.

In terms of hiring a remediator, once you have an inspector that you like and trust, and you feel that they’ve found all the issues and they have a great report, you want to make sure that the remediator agrees with that report. If they start telling you things like, you don’t need to worry about that, or you don’t need to do that, that’s a pretty big red flag.

Q: Is insurance-covered remediation health-focused?

A: For seven years after hurricane Sandy, I was still remediating homes. Insurance companies didn’t have enough infrastructure and to control costs, don’t necessarily make sure that you have the best person to do the job.

It’s really unfortunate if you don’t know better and you’re not advocating for your own health, you’re likely to get the claim not handled properly. You’re likely to still have problems after they say it’s fixed. This is why it’s important to test after remediation as well.

Q: What at-home strategies do you suggest to get rid of mold?

1. Cleaning
Cleaning is so important. When you have an overload of dust, you’re going to have an overload of mold particles, allergens, toxins, etc. Getting rid of the dust, which is basically where all of these microbiological contaminants settle in, is key. The more dust you have in your environment, the more that recirculates every time the HVAC system turns on. Believe it or not, just the force that your body pushes in the environment as you move through a room, stirs up all these tiny weightless particles. I would say cleaning is one of the cheapest things you can do (time consuming, no doubt), but the best thing that you can do to stay on top of the environment.

2. Air Filtration
If you have a central HVAC system, make sure that it’s filtered properly. I love Intellipure, mainly because I know they’re pretty much available worldwide and they actually tie into the HVAC system. One stops these particles from getting to the coil, creating a contamination system inside the HVAC unit. Also purifying the air at the same time. So it’s kind of a two for one.

I would say purification and cleaning are probably the two biggest things that you can do with very few dollars down without the needs of any professional. But if you’re remediating without fixing, the problems would be for example if you had an overflowing bathtub trying to clean up the water with towels before first shutting off the faucet.

There’s some things you can do, but you also want to identify what the problems are and fix those. Every time you clean, every time you’re filtering, we’re actually getting somewhere.

To learn more from Michael, visit themoldmedic.com, where you will find information on his book plus a ton of free information and resources regarding mold. Also find restoration services at allamericanrestoration.com.

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