21st global Mycotoxin
Research Project

A rigorous pursuit of identifying and quantifying airborne mycotoxins in indoor environments.

21st Global Laboratory Project

By Sue and Robert Goldsworthy

Until relatively recently, the main focus around molds was spores, and ensuring that the spores were removed along with the active mold growth. Increasing numbers of people within the general public have been pushing for recognition of mycotoxins within their homes as a source of debilitating illness. This was our inspiration to find out more.

Our goal was to determine if the air within built environments, such as houses and buildings, contained measurable quantities of mycotoxins.  If so, which variety of mycotoxins would we likely find?

Agriculture, food, and feed industries were a great source of information when we embarked on this research project although the information fell short when we started to look at mycotoxins within the built environment. Undoubtedly, almost all papers that we managed to find concluded “needs more research”. We could find little, if any, follow-up on the research papers that we reviewed.

We then drew on our knowledge of the mold industry and the usual types of mold that were typical of many homes and buildings. We combined that knowledge with what we had found through our agricultural research of the mycotoxins produced by specific species that were common to both industries to determine our targeted mycotoxins.

Another challenge that we faced was how to actually attempt the collection of mycotoxins. Mycotoxins on surfaces are easy, you can simply swab them. These are not what we are interested in simply because, if they are attached to a hard surface, it doesn’t seem logical to sample one small spot where surface cleaning may remove them anyway. They didn’t seem to pose the greatest risk. We wanted to know what we were potentially inhaling, that which is either airborne, or will become airborne with movement.  Those are the mycotoxins we wanted to investigate.

Our research began with collection. We sought equipment that would potentially have the capability of collecting an air sample that closely resembled our rate of breathing to simulate what we would be inhaling. We engaged independent persons to collect our initial samples. After collecting our first samples and utilizing an external laboratory specifically for extracting and analyzing the samples, we were rewarded with results. We found Ochratoxin A, and Aflatoxins. Not in every sample, but enough to raise our level of concern, and to keep us going.  

Persevering with the external laboratory over the next 12 months, different methods of analysis were attempted with not all results being as expected. The sensitivity of different equipment seemed inconsistent, and the flexibility of experimentation with extraction methods did not afford us flexibility. This was the point in time where we either had to abandon our research, as so many others before us had done,  or equip a laboratory ourselves to gain more flexibility and keep going. We chose the latter.  

This was a huge and challenging undertaking.  It incorporated a lot of planning, building, and procurement. Once completed, we got to it and the laboratory became our second home. Through a long process of trial and error, we developed an extraction and processing method which now reliably sees consistent results.

We have sampled, and continue to sample, hundreds of homes, some with visible mold, some with no visible mold but where the occupants have suspected health issues possibly related to historic mold events, and those that are clean homes with no known history of mold.  We have utilized a formula for calculating the load per cubic meter and, by way of our clean home figures, developed a baseline of expected “normal” background levels.

August 2021 update

After beginning with just Ochratoxin A and Aflatoxin Total, we have added T2/HT2 to our mycotoxins.  We will continue to add more mycotoxins within the coming months.

March 2022 update

A snippet of our research to March 2022.

  • Of our samples 36% are clear of all the mycotoxins for which they were being tested.
  • Ochratoxin A is the least dominant with only 12% showing elevated levels.
  • Aflatoxin Total is showing 35% of samples with elevated levels.
  • T2/HT2 is currently at 24% of samples elevated.

August 2022 update

We have introduced DON (vomitoxin), zearalenon, and fumonisin.

laboratory@21stglobal.com

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