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What are Mycotoxins and Where Are Mycotoxins Found In Your Home - Part 1

What are Mycotoxins and Where Are Mycotoxins Found In Your Home - Part 1

April 29, 2024

This is part 1 of a two part discussion. This month we will discuss mycotoxins found in your home and next month we will discuss the mycotoxins found in the foods we eat. These organic chemicals are found in nature. When people say they are allergic to mold or have health symptoms from exposure, they are actually reacting to the mycotoxins produced by the mold colonies.

Mycotoxins are found on the surfaces of mold spores and inside the cell structures of the mold colonies. These chemicals have been studied by science for many years. They have both medical and military applications, industry, and are used in homeopathic remedies.

When the presence of mycotoxins are attributed to an environmental condition, it will almost always be associated with a water damaged building, fixtures, or contents. Unless you have mold growth in your home, you cannot have the accumulation of mycotoxins on the surfaces of the building materials and furniture. Studies show that naturally occurring background amounts of mycotoxins in the environment are too small an amount to be of concern to a normal healthy person.

Not all mold spores have mycotoxins. The conditions of the environment will have an effect on the amount of mycotoxin that is produced by the colony. As a result, if you have a consultant come to your home and collect mold samples for laboratory analysis, you cannot say that the more of a contaminant means a higher risk to exposure.

Also, there are studies that mycotoxins can be present on fragments of building materials and other airborne particles that are not detected by air or surface sampling for mold. Thus, if you collect a sample for mold using a traditional air, tape lift, or swap, you will not identify the mycotoxin, but this does not mean that mycotoxins are not present in the home affecting you.

To evaluate a home for mycotoxins, you collect samples of dust. This medium (dust) is sampled because it traps the particles that would normally float away with currents of air. The laboratory reports often provide analysis for up to 11 different mycotoxin groups.

Mycotoxins Found in a Water Damaged Home

The following is a description of some of the mycotoxins found in a water damaged home. This is not a complete discussion. It is simply meant as an introduction of what groups could be there.

One mold genus can produce several different mycotoxins at the same time which sometimes confuses the issue. Also, when a common color is stated, this can change based on what the mold is growing on.

Aflatoxin is produced by Aspergillus and is known to target the liver, suppress the immune system, and increase the risk of infections. 

Alternariol is produced by Alternaria and often grows on water damaged sheetrock. It often appears to be black to olive gray in color and typically causes hay fever and asthma

Chaetoglobosin is produced by Chaetomium and often found on water damaged sheetrock. It emits a musty odor, grows rapidly,and can be dark green or black in color. It can reportedly kill cells in mammals, cause brain damage,and cause skin and nail infections. 

Trichothecenes are produced by Stachybotrys (the black mold) and can be found on any water saturated wood based building material. Exposure has been linked to a wide array of respiratory, immunologic and neurologic symptoms when inhaled.

Citrinin is produced by Penicillium and Aspergillus which are normally black or green. It is a very strong toxin that can affect kidneys and other organs. It is commonly found on water damaged building materials.

Mycophenolic Acid is produced by Penicillium which is normally green or dark gray in color. This mycotoxin has a well known suppressant effect on a person’s immune system and can thus allow for infections to occur. It is often used on organ transplant patients to prevent rejections of the new organ. 

Ochratoxin Is produced by Aspergillus and Penicillium which is found in water damaged buildings. It has been found to cause respiratory distress and renal failure in kidneys. Some medical studies suggest it could be associated with rheumatoid arthritis, alzheimer’s, and parkinsons. 

Satratoxin Is a group of trichocenes that are produced by the fungi Stachybotrys. This mold is found on water saturated wood building materials. A medical study has demonstrated that it can cause neurological damage to the brain. 

Stachybotrlactam is produced by Stachybotrys which is found on water saturated wood building materials. Exposure to this mycotoxin is through both inhalation and ingestion and has both allergenic and toxigenic effects. It is considered a common contaminant in cellulose insulation. 

Sterigmatocystinis produced by Aspergillusand Chaetomium. Aspergillus is one of the three most common molds in water damaged buildings. Exposure to the toxin can cause liver and kidney damage, also inflammatory responses in lung tissues.

Trichothecenes are a large group of toxins that can be produced by several different mold species. These toxins are very potent and have been used for biological warfare due to their resistance to high temperatures and high lethality potential.

Stachybotrys is one of the molds that produce this mycotoxin which requires saturated water conditions on wood based materials.Some people do not believe that exposure to mold contamination causes illnesses to the occupants even though the mycotoxins they produce are used in the medical and military industries.

The magnification of mycotoxins in the home environment can exceed the threshold tolerance of a normal healthy individual. If you can minimize the dust on surfaces (don’t forget the basement water piping and tops of HVAC ductwork) you can remove most of the potential exposure to this important contaminant.

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