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ULM toxicology department announces mold analysis addition to asbestos laboratory

Published September 2, 2016

MONROE, La. — The University of Louisiana Monroe toxicology department asbestos analysis lab expanded its existing testing capabilities to include airborne mold spore analysis.

The existing lab was designed specifically to evaluate workplace exposures to other microorganisms detectable in air, fluids, and bulk samples during indoor air quality studies. The additional ability to detect and analyze mold spores opens up areas of research in medicine, industrial hygiene, and occupational health and safety.

Mold growth occurs when elevated surface moisture exists for long periods of time. Most people associate mold growth with flooding, but it can also occur with plumbing leaks, gaps in windows and roofs, moisture intrusion through sub-flooring, moisture condensation in air conditioning systems, or intrusion from the outdoors.    

The lab, located in Sugar Hall 201, will be staffed by Dr. Kevin Baer, head of the toxicology department, and John Herrock, a toxicology professor at ULM, with Shannon Banks serving as quality assurance officer. Banks brings prior experience in industrial hygiene, air monitoring, environmental pollution, and occupational health and safety. 

Herrock and Baer both completed the necessary course work and certifications in fungal spore sampling and mold inspection and identification. Additionally, the laboratory has gained proficiency in fungal direct examination from the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA).

The mold analysis will also serve as a local and regional resource for businesses, home owners, construction companies, environmental consulting companies who can contract directly with the lab for air concentration analysis. 

Considering there are no existing federal guidelines for air quality concerning biological aerosols (microorganisms transmitted by air that are from a living organism such as mold), the lab cannot declare a sample to be “safe” or “not safe,” but Baer and Herrock hope to set benchmarks to relate air quality samples through data quality objectives and allow contractees to compare their sample relative to other samples.  

Mold materials are known to illicit an immune response and are associated with allergy symptoms and respiratory diseases in patients with compromised immune systems. The exact cause of these respiratory irritations are not well understood, and the new lab capabilities hope to shed new light on these mysteries and provide a valuable teaching tool for students. 

“In addition, our students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on training in asbestos and mold analysis,” said Baer. “This will give them a significant competitive advantage as they seek employment in occupational health and safety jobs."

For more information or for contract information, contact the ULM Toxicology Asbestos and Mold Analysis Laboratory, 318-342-1812, or Mr. John Herrock, laboratory director, 318-342-1859.