Fungus From Wallpaper Could Cause “Sick Building Syndrome”: Study

Toxic fungus living in wallpaper can spread through the air of a building, making occupants sick, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published this month in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, researchers said chemical toxins and pollutants are frequently tested and studied, but fungal toxins are often overlooked for the illnesses they can cause, including a phenomenon known as “sick building syndrome.”

Researchers contaminated a piece of wallpaper with three types of fungi, Penicillium brevicompactum, Aspergillus versicolor, and Stachybotrys chartarum. They simulated typical airflow found indoors over the contaminated wallpaper.

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The results indicated the mycotoxins, toxins released from fungi, were then spread throughout the indoor area through the air. This is typical to the type of airflow and spread that can be expected in an indoor building, resulting in the inhabitants becoming sick from the mycotoxins.

Researchers indicate that while most of the airborne toxins are likely to be located on fungal spores, the toxic contaminants were also found on small particles, dust fragments, and small pieces of the wallpaper. These tiny particles can easily be inhaled by a human.

The study suggests that the three types of fungi did not spread at the same rates. Some spread more rapidly and released more toxins than others.

The mycotoxins could be a contributing factor to what is known as “sick building syndrome.” This is when occupants of a building, both commercial office buildings and residential homes, become ill after spending time within the building. Typically no specific cause for the illness can be identified, leaving doctors at a loss to treat patients. But the illness onset is traced to the amount of time spent in one particular building.

Mycotoxins are typically not studied indoors, thus the cause of the illnesses goes unrecognized and is attributed to “sick building syndrome.”

Researchers said energy efficient homes tend to worsen the problem, since the homes are often insulated and isolated from outside elements to save energy and money.

However, simple appliances, like coffee makers, wet wallpaper from steamy bathrooms or moist kitchen surfaces, could provide the right conditions for fungal growth, resulting in a release of mycotoxins that are a threat to human health.

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