If you do an internet search for mold, you are bound to find numerous links about “toxic black mold” and anecdotes about the health effects from these toxins. You may be curious to know if there are any of these toxins inside your home and seek professional testing. So, can you test for mycotoxins in a home?
What are mycotoxins?
Mycotoxins can be defined as a chemical compound that is synthesized by fungi that are toxigenic. Some examples of mycotoxins are aflatoxin, ochratoxin A, trichothecenes, and more. Some mold types that can produce mycotoxins are Alternaria, Aspergillus, Chaetomium, Penicillium, Fusarium, Stachybotrys, and others. Molds which can produce mycotoxins may not always produce them. Some mycotoxins are produced by multiple different molds, and some molds can produce multiple different mycotoxins. Mycotoxins are not volatile and travel on spores, growth structures, or other small particles.
Mycotoxin testing has been an important part of food safety for a long time. The most well-studied pathway for mycotoxin exposure is through ingestion, and there is a large body of published research regarding the health effects associated with mycotoxin ingestion. These effects include cancer and neurotoxicity.
Now, I am assuming that you are not planning on eating moldy drywall inside your home. So, what kind of testing can be done for potential exposures in a home? There are commercially available tests that assess a sample of house dust or airborne particles for a panel of mycotoxins.
There are a few factors which make testing for mycotoxins complicated. First, there are no guidelines for what an acceptable amount of mycotoxins in house dust is. Second, the presence of mycotoxins in the house dust does not mean there is a pathway to exposure. Third, the published scientific research on health effects from exposure to mycotoxins by respiration is very limited. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has established tolerable intake levels for mycotoxins via ingestion, however, there are no applicable similar guidelines for inhaled mycotoxins.
With these challenges in sampling for mycotoxins, and with the minimal scientific literature for interpretation of the data, we often opt for doing other types of mold testing. When collecting air samples or surface samples for mold, we can determine if toxigenic fungi are present in the air or surfaces, respectively. Air sampling is the closest way to directly measure what you may be exposed to via inhalation. Air samples for mycotoxins typically need to run for longer periods of time so that a limit of detection can be reached. Other important factors to keep in mind:
- Mycotoxin testing can cost up to 10 times that of traditional mold air samples
- The analysis of mycotoxins in air or dust samples is only performed by a limited number of laboratories and there are no established proficiency tests.
Currently, there are many challenges for people who want to test directly for mycotoxins. If you are interested in sampling for mycotoxins, Indoor Science can help put together a sampling strategy to best evaluate your indoor environment.