ERMI testing measures composite dust in your home, office, or vehicle. The results will tell you and your medical team about your historical exposure risks.
ERMI is a composite dust sample and can’t identify the source of water intrusions that created a mold problem, or how to fix the mold problem. You need non-viable mold air sampling to do that. This is a direct quote from the EPA website: “the ERMI should be used only for research. The ERMI has not been validated for routine public use in homes, schools, or other buildings.”
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) created the Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI). This test is still considered to be most appropriate for research. To create a baseline, EPA sent techs out into the low-income housing projects to measure mold without regard to the condition of the building, nor the housekeeping: only consideration of the levels of mold spores in the dust that were found. The baseline had been determined. Now, whenever an ERMI test is performed in an environmental lab, the results are theoretically integrated into the EPA’s ERMI database.
ERMI testing requires approximately 1 tbs. of dust. An ERMI test cannot tell if the mold spores in the dust came from outside of from a mold reservoir behind the refrigerator.
At American Air Testing we measure the levels of mold spores that are in your breathing zone and settled on your contents. This way we can give your directions to clean up your living and work areas.
For more information on how our testing differs from ERMI, call us at 415-337-2923.
We can’t give house or work cleanup instructions from ERMI or MARIA dust testing alone.
Mold growth is always caused by too much water or humidity inside the living spaces
Reasons for high humidity
no or low performing exhaust fans
single pane or broken windows
no insulation in perimeter walls
too many people or contents in a small space
Please contact your landlord, facilities manager or property management team as soon as possible, even if it is after business hours if your apartment experiences a leak. The sooner the leak can be stopped, water removed, and professional drying started; the less chance mold will grow from the leak. Everyone wins this way.
Tenants may also want to consider renters insurance. There are times when tenants may have to pay out of pocket.
The reality in San Francisco is exhaust fans aren’t always possible in many of our beautiful historic buildings. If you don’t have a bathroom exhaust, please do leave a window open after bathing, if it is safe to do so. If your exhaust fan seems weak, take a piece of toilet paper and see if the fan will hold the toilet paper next to the vent when it’s turned on. If it doesn’t pass the test, you may choose to discuss this with your landlord. Exhaust fans can prevent water damage to the building.
If you are a property owner, a small investment in a new exhaust fan will save you countless dollars for building damage and mold remediation.
Single pane windows can create interior condensation. It is usually time and cost prohibitive to replace historic windows in San Francisco.
By working together landlords and tenants can reduce mold growth by leaving breathing space between furniture and windows/walls.
Store clothing and shoes in sealed, plastic containers when possible. For instance, if you store your party shoes under your bed without putting them in a plastic box, you may have mold growth on your shoes. Do not store items in cardboard boxes – mold loves cardboard. Mold “eats” cellulose, so paper is it’s favorite meal.
Again, this is one of those things that tenants and landlords need to work together to reduce interior damage. A simple humidity gauge will tell tenants when it’s time to turn on exhaust fans or open windows. Any time the humidity is greater than 52% it’s time to get some fresh air inside.
If you are a property owner, adding insulation should be considered when you open interior or exterior walls. Also insulation below the floorboards in a crawlspace can save you money on heating bills and keep the interior humidity in a normal level. Please check with your accountant as there may be tax benefits available for these upgrades.
Too many people or contents
San Francisco has very high rents. This means more people living in smaller spaces.
Open the windows
Turn the exhaust fans on if there a lot of people using the kitchen and bathroom. You may need to leave the exhaust fans turned on all the time.
Tenants may need to rent storage for excessive contents. Definitely store all clothing, paper, and shoes in sealed plastic containers.
If you are a homeowner, keep your contents in sealed plastic bags and bins. You won’t have unpleasant surprises the next time you dig your suitcase out of the basement.
You have choices when purchasing a HEPA air purifier.
Here are some useful tips to help you choose the right HEPA air purifier.
A true-HEPA air purifier has a folded, paper HEPA filter. All (or almost all) air is passed through the filter.
True HEPA air purifiers captures up to 99.97 percent of particles as small as 0.3 microns, which include a range of allergens and odors.
About ten years ago manufacturers started adding folded plastic filters and calling them washable HEPA filters. Here’s the problem with folded plastic HEPA filters: dust sticks in the folds no matter how much you wash a plastic filter. Mold spores cling to dust. Water makes mold spores grow. So, after you wash a plastic HEPA filter and replace it in the air purifier, it will blow all those growing mold spores into your air.
To combat adding all these molds spores to your air, some manufacturers added ozone generators. Yes, ozone in high concentrations will kill bacteria and mold spores, but at those levels, it will also kill you. Ozone is not needed in an air purifier.
Charcoal or carbon can be added to the true-HEPA paper filer to removed a lot of the fumes, vapors, and odors we have in our city air. You can remove those fumes and odors by adding charcoal or carbon to your HEPA air purifier purchase.
Buy the right size air purifier for your room. The cubic feet the machine will clean is written on the box.
It’s fire season again (still?). so we need to be prepared. What I do is turn my old Honeywell on HI during the day (it’s loud) when I don’t use my bedroom. During the night I move the HEPA to my office, again on HI. I’m writing this post during the worst air pollution San Francisco has ever known from the fires in Northern California. I have maintained particulate levels for 2.5 under 25 with outdoor levels over 300.
There are better air purifiers offered for sale than those sold by a lot of MLM companies.
Before you buy a HEPA air purifier, try some simple, common-sense steps to reduce indoor air pollution:
Don’t smoke inside your living space.
If your vacuum doesn’t include a HEPA filter, upgrade your vacuum. If you have outside housecleaning help, it is recommended they use your HEPA vacuum and not a public vacuum.
Seal windows and exterior doors. This will help keep City air pollution outside.
Inspect the kitchen, bathroom, and laundry exhaust systems to confirm they are clean and all exit outside the building. This can be tricky in San Francisco. Do the best you can – we can’t rebuild the City.
Move all furniture a minimum of 6″-12″ away from perimeter walls, unless you are sure those walls are insulated.
Remove from your living area any contents that show discoloration, water damage, or growth. Some things can be remediated (cleaned for mold); others can’t.
Minimize candles and wood fires.
Don’t store toxic cleaning (or other) chemicals inside.
Before you invest in portable air purifiers, make sure carbon monoxide detectors are working and properly placed throughout your building. Things like wood stoves, fireplaces, chimneys, and vents are all places where carbon monoxide leaks can hide. And don’t idle your car, run fuel-burning power equipment, or light a barbecue grill in your garage, basement, or in confined spaces near your home.
Better True HEPA air purifiers do especially well at filtering pollutant particles such as dust, tobacco smoke, and pollen. Add charcoal filters to a true-HEPA to remove some of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other types of gaseous pollutants.
Some portable models with carbon pre-filters are claimed to filter VOCs, known respiratory irritants that arise from adhesives, paints, and cleaning products. But the Environmental Protection Agency warns that such filters are specific to certain gaseous pollutants, not for others and that no air purifiers are expected to remove all gaseous pollutants found in the typical home. Carbon filters also must often be replaced, typically every 3-6 months, or they stop working–and can even, when full, release trapped pollutants back into the air. The safer course: Heed strict product label warnings such as “use only in well-ventilated spaces.”
Air-purifier models with an electrostatic precipitator remove pollutant particles by charging them as they pass through and collecting them on an oppositely charged metal plate or filter. In the process, they produce some ozone as a byproduct. You’ll also find dedicated ozone generators, which produce relatively large amounts of this gas by design. While ozone in the upper atmosphere protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, ground-level ozone is an irritant that can worsen asthma and compromise your ability to fight respiratory infections. We believe that air purifiers that emit even small amounts of ozone are a poor choice if someone in your household has pulmonary problems or allergy symptoms. We also suggest that you avoid dedicated ozone generators entirely, given their high ozone emissions.
The very best portable models we tested were effective at cleaning the air of dust, smoke, and pollen at high or low speed. For whole-house purifiers, our recommended models did best at filtering dust and pollen without impeding airflow of forced-air heating and cooling systems. The worst models weren’t terribly efficient at any speed.
How to choose
If you want a purifier and don’t have a forced-air system, consider a large portable. In addition to removing more particles at high speeds, the better large models still did well at lower, quieter speeds.
Weigh features carefully. Most air purifiers have an indicator that tells you when first to clean or replace the filter to maintain efficiency. But some indicators turn on based on length of time the unit has been running, not how dirty the filter is. Skip odor-removal features. In past tests, it took up to an hour for them to make a difference–when they did anything at all.
And the certifications on the box? All tell how well a model filters particles at its highest speed. The certifications all also allow up to 50 parts per billion of ozone, a respiratory irritant. We advise against using models that produce any ozone, even if they are effective cleaners.
Check an air purifier’s efficiency rating
If you still want one, use this air purifier guide to picking the appropriate model for your circumstances. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers certifies most room models as part of a voluntary program that includes appropriate room size and maximum clean-air delivery rate (CADR), a measure of cleaning speed. We judge a CADR above 350 to be excellent and below 100 to be poor. Choose a model designed for an area larger than yours for better cleaning at a lower, quieter speed. Many whole-house filters list a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV), developed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers. The top performers in our tests typically had a MERV higher than 10.
Please give us a call to discuss your project at 415-337-2923.
If you see a water truck spraying the construction site, there is a good chance that building contains asbestos, but not always.
Report the problem to your landlord or property manager. Send them a photo if possible.
Then buy a HEPA only air purifier and keep your doors and windows shut as much as possible. You may consider using painters blue tape on windows and doors where practical.
DON’T SWEEP THE DUST – USE A SWIFFER-TYPE MOP. If the dust has “bad stuff” a broom will make the dust go into the air and up your nose. If you must sweep, wet the area (all the dust) with a spray bottle. Then clean up the area.
Please give your landlord time to respond to your situation. If things don’t improve, or if you have a reason to believe the dust contains asbestos or lead, then a call to a local tenant-landlord attorney, the SF Rent Control Board or the SF Building Department. If you have concerns about an ongoing project, or want more enforcement information call the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
You breathe in particles because they are everywhere. Some particles don’t come out of your lungs. That’s why they are important.
Airborne particles matter for air quality; both outside and inside. Some particles are so small that your lungs can’t breathe them out or expel them. These super small particles are referred to as non-respirable particles. These small particles are of the most concern for health.
These can be organic like mold, bacteria, and viruses; or inorganics like ozone, smoke, and air pollution.
Particles are separated into repairable and non-respirable groups. Non-repairable means it’s so small it gets stuck in your lungs. The chemical composition of particles also determines the effect they have on your health.
There are a lot of people flooding the market with particle sensing devices that only test for “course” (over 2.5 µg/m3) particles. Those sensors are significantly cheaper than the “fine” (under 2.5 µg/m3) particle sensors. We have tested a lot of different, low-cost sensors and most don’t work. We can’t recommend any of the current ones on the market.
We do recommend Purple Air and search for American Air Testing to see what our outside air quality is like.
There is an AI prediction of indoor air by street address here: Breezometer.
How to lower the particles you are breathing
The best way to do that is with a true-HEPA only air purifier. You may be able to add a true-HEPA filter to your heating or HVAC system. Portable true-HEPAs work very well, also. You may want to consider adding a charcoal filter to the HEPA. The charcoal or carbon will trap vapors (gasoline, smoke, etc.)
Please don’t add any UV, ultrastatic, ion generator, or other. A true-HEPA with charcoal will not add anything to your indoor air – it will only remove particles.
We are the environmental testing team in San Francisco that has helped many clients with unique and difficult problems.
Mold problems in San Francisco usually happen in buildings that are old enough to contain asbestos and lead-based paint. So, it’s important that an unskilled, unlicensed person doesn’t start removing walls and create a “major asbestos release” in your store or bedroom.
We give real-world advice about environmental cleanup. We consider your emotional and financial health in our directions. We want to choose the method that will clean up the problem so that it does not return is our goal. The financial issues and the everyday living with ongoing mold remediation/asbestos and lead abatement are given primary consideration in our evaluations. No, we won’t tell you not to fix the mold problem in your tenant’s bedroom because it is cheaper and quicker for you to put a coat of paint over it. We understand that it’s loud, it’s expensive, there are too many strange people walking in and out of your space. We understand and try to minimize the frustration and move the job along a fast as possible.
Our team is experienced, licensed, and insured for all the work we perform.
Specializing in hard projects; projects that need a toxic mold, asbestos, and lead removal instructions to satisfy our clients, a lawsuit, insurance claims or tenant concerns are our wheelhouse.
All written reports are thorough and complete. By addressing the actual concerns of all involved, the issues usually are resolved without anger, mistrust, or litigation. And we write in English that is usually understandable by all. There is always a follow-up phone call or two to answer followup questions.
We work primarily in San Francisco but will go an hour in any direction.
And we will always call you back, or return your email, text, or phone messages.
Ask around – you’ll find out other people think we know more, too.