In an earlier article we discussed the common mycotoxins, their health effects and the factors that favour their production. In this article we will look at the toxigenic moulds that produce some of these mycotoxins and the materials on which they are commonly found. The general public thinks that black moulds are toxigenic because of the publicity that Stachybotrys chartarum (a.k.a Stachybotrys atra in the old literature), a black mould, received in the recent years. However, the colour of the mould does not determine whether it is toxigenic or not.
Growth of mould on building materials is determined by the water activity (aw) among other factors. The aw is a measure of the moistness of the material. Some moulds are capable of growing over a wide range of aw but there is always an optimal range.
Stachybotrys chartarum is cosmopolitan and grows naturally on straw and other cellulose containing materials in soil. In the indoor environment, this mould is commonly found together with Stachybotrys chlorohalonata on cellulose containing materials including paper, canvas and jute which are wetted to a water activity > 0.98. In a study conducted in Denmark, Stachybotrys chartarum was found to produce a number of mycotoxins inclduding macrocyclic trichothecenes, satratoxins and roridins when growing on building materials. However, only 35% of the isolates from buildings produced the extremely cytotoxic mycotoxins, the satratoxins. This led to the conclusion that idiopathic pulmonary hemosiderosis in infants is possibly not caused by satratoxins but by other S. chartarum mycotoxins.The optimum temperature for growth for Stachybotrys chartarum is 23 oC with a minimum and maximum temperature of 2 and 37 oC respectively.
The optimal water activity is 0.98 with a minimum of 0.89. To read more about Stachybotrys chartarum and S. chlorohalonata click here.
Aspergillus flavus is widely distributed in soil. It is associated with a wide range of stored products such as maize and nuts. In indoor environment it is commonly found on damp walls, wallpaper, floor and carpet dust, tarred wooden flooring, humidifiers and HVAC fans, bakeries, shoes, leather, and bird droppings. Strains of this mould may produce aflatoxin, a class 1 carcinogen.
The minimum and maximum temperature for growth are 6 and 45 oC, with an optimum at 40 oC. The minimum water activity is 0.78 and an optimum at 0.98.
Aspergillus fumigatus is common in composting plant material, woodchips and garbage. Also common in dust infiltrating from outdoor air, carpet and mattress dust, wet building and finishing material, HVAC insulations, fans, filters, humidifier water and potted plant soil. A. fumigatus is a producer of various mycotoxins including gliotoxin, verrucologen, fumitremorgin A & B and fumigaclavines among others. A. fumigatus has an optimum growth temperature at 43 oC and minimum and maximum at 10 and 57 oC respectively. Minimum water activity is 0.82 and an optimum at 0.97.
Aspergillus niger is found worldwide in soil and plant litter. In indoor environment A. niger is common in floor, carpet and mattress dust, acrylic paint, UFFI, leather, HVAC filters and fans, and potted plant soil. A. niger produces malformins and a few strains also produce ochratoxin A. A. niger requires a minimum temperature for growth at 6 and maximum at 47 oC with an optimum at 37 oC.
Aspergillus versicolor is very common on gypsum board, floor, carpet, mattress and upholstered-furniture dust, and damp walls. A. versicolor produces high quantities of the carcinogenic mycotoxin, sterigmatocystin at water activities (aw) above 0.95. A. versicolor is generally xerophilic- meaning that it can grow at low water activity (<0.80). The minimum and maximum growth temperatures for A. versicolor(/i> are 4 and 40 oC with an optimum at 30 oC.Its optimal water activity is 0.95 with a minimum of 0.75.
Penicillium chrysogenum is one of the most common indoor moulds. It is extremely common on damp building materials, walls and wallpaper; floor, carpet mattress and upholstered-furniture dust. P. chrysogenum produces few detectable metabolites and often none when growing on building materials. Lack of observed effects on persons exposed to high quantities of spores and the production of few metabolites suggest this species may not be an important health hazard. However, some strains may cause allergenic reactions to susceptible individuals. P. chrysogenum can grow at a minimum temperature of -4 oC, an optimum of 28 oC, and a maximum of 38 oC. It has minimum water activity of 0.79 and an optimum at 0.98
Penicillium brevicompactum is common on damp walls and building materials e.g., gypsum board; floor, carpet, mattress and upholstered-furniture dust. P. brevicompactum produces mycophenolic acid. P. brevicompactum can grow at -2 and 30 oC with an optimum at 25 oC. Its water activity requirements are a minimum of 0.75 and an optimum at 0.96.
Chaetomium globosum is common on cellulose containing building materials that has been very wet such as gypsum board, cellulose board and wood. C. globosum produces high quantities of chaetoglobosins. The water activity requirement for C. globosum are a minimum of
Trichderma species are frequently found on gypsum board and water saturated wood; floor, carpet and mattress dust; paint; domestic water supply, and HVAC system air. In one study, Trichoderma species were not found to produce detectable quantities of trichothecenes when growing on building materials. Less than 1% of the isolates produced trichodermol or esters of it.
Kuhn, D. M. and Ghannoum, M. A. (2003). Indoor Mold, Toxigenic Fungi, and Stachybotrys chartarum: Infectious Disease Perspective. Clinical Microbiology Reviews, 16(1):144–172.
Nielsen, K.F, (2002). Mould growth on building materials: Secondary metabolites, mycotoxins and biomarkers, Dissertation, The Mycology Group, Technical University of Denmark. 116p
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Dr. Jackson Kung’u is a Microbiologist who has specialised in the field of mycology (the study of moulds and yeasts). He is a member of the Mycological Society of America. He graduated from the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, with a Masters degree in Fungal Technology and a PhD in Microbiology. He has published several research papers in international scientific journals. Dr. Kung’u has analysed thousands of mould samples from across Canada. Dr. Kung’u helped one of the labs in Ontario to obtain AIHA accreditation. Dr. Kung’u provides how-to advice on indoor mould and bacteria issues. Get more information about indoor mould and bacteria at http://www.drjacksonkungu.com. Become a subscriber – FREE- for original reviews on mould and bacteria issues.