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Mycotoxins are the toxins produced by some molds. There are about 100 species of toxic molds which produce these mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites. They are found throughout a toxic mold colony, and on the spores. The substance a toxic mold colony is growing on affects whether the mold colony produces mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins exist as a self-defence for toxic mold colonies. Toxic molds use their mycotoxins as a biological weapon against other organisms.

There are over 200 known types of mycotoxins. However, the study of mycotoxins is relatively new, so there are many more mycotoxins to be discovered.

Mycotoxins are extremely toxic to humans and animals. In agriculture and in buildings, mycotoxins have caused great problems.

Mycotoxins in Food and Agriculture

Mycotoxins are a big problem in agriculture. Over 25% of the world's agricultural production is contaminated by mycotoxins. Mycotoxins often grow on crops like corn, wheat and peanuts, for example. The mycotoxins can then end up in food. If crops like wheat are stored poorly after harvest, toxic molds can grow and contaminate the wheat with mycotoxins.

There are limits set for the amount of mycotoxins in food. For example, the United States Food and Drug Administration limits the maximum amount of aflatoxin mycotoxins in food to 20 parts per billion. The limit set for milk is 0.5 parts per billion. To remove mycotoxins from food crops, binding agents are used.

However, there have still been incidents of people dying from eating mycotoxin-contaminated food. This occurs more often in third world countries. For example, 125 people died in 2004 in Kenya, after they ate food contaminated with aflatoxin mycotoxins.

Many animals have also died from ingesting mycotoxins. Farm animals have died from eating feed contaminated with mycotoxins. There has also been cases of pets dying after eating pet food which contained mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins in Homes

Some toxic molds (such as Stachybotrys chartarum) grow in homes. These toxic molds carry mycotoxins on their spores. If these molds are disturbed, they can also release large amounts of mycotoxins into the air.

There have been many cases of people suffering serious health problems because of mycotoxins in their homes. Some people have even died. People have even been forced to move out of, and sometimes destroy, their mycotoxin-contaminated homes.

Mycotoxin Types

The most important mycotoxin types are:

Mycotoxin Exposure

The main way people are exposed to mycotoxins in their homes is by breathing the mycotoxins in. Normally, there is always a very small amount of mycotoxins in the air everywhere. However, when there is toxic mold in buildings, there is a much greater amount of mycotoxins in the air. This can lead to health problems in people.

When people breathe in mycotoxins, the mycotoxins can damage the lungs and create breathing problems. Mycotoxins like trichothecene are much more toxic when they are breathed in, than when they are ingested. Trichothecene mycotoxins can also be absorbed in through the skin or the eyes.

Another way people are exposed is by eating mycotoxin-contaminated food. Some mycotoxins, like trichothecene, remain toxic even after cooking. So mycotoxins in food can be difficult to remove.

Since a toxic mold colony can often create several types of mycotoxins, a person will typically be exposed to a mixture of mycotoxin types. Health effects can also depend on the length of time a person was exposed, and the amount of mycotoxins a person was exposed to. For example, a person might be exposed to a large amount of mycotoxins in a short time. Or they might be regularly exposed to small amounts of mycotoxins, but over a long period of time.

Mycotoxin Symptoms

The main types of long-term symptoms caused by mycotoxins are breathing problems, mental problems and damage to internal organs. Mycotoxins can also suppress the immune system. This will then leave a person more vulnerable to getting other diseases too.

The health effects of mycotoxins depends on things like the person's age, health, immune system, gender, exposure level, exposure length, and diet. Children, the elderly, and people with weaker immune systems will be worse affected by mycotoxins.

The symptoms can also depend on how sudden or gradual the mycotoxin exposure was. Being exposed to a large amount of mycotoxins suddenly might cause symptoms like vomiting and pain. Being gradually exposed to small amounts of mycotoxins over a long time might cause long-term symptoms, such as cancer.

Mycotoxin Treatment

Mycotoxin poisoning is known as mycotoxicosis. There is no cure for mycotoxicosis. Antibiotics and drugs have little effect. The best treatment is to stop the exposure to mycotoxins.

Removing Mycotoxins

If you have mycotoxins and toxic mold in your home then you should talk to a professional mold removal service. If you disturb toxic mold it can cause it to release millions of mycotoxins into the air. This will contaminate your home. This is why you should never try to remove toxic mold yourself. See the Black Mold Removal page for more information about toxic mold removal.

Some mycotoxins can be almost impossible to remove from homes. Mycotoxins are only about 0.1 micrometers in size. HEPA filtered vacuums do not remove mycotoxins. Activated carbon filters might be able to remove some mycotoxins.

The most stable mycotoxins, such as trichothecene mycotoxins, stay toxic for years. There are not many ways to destroy these mycotoxins. One way is through fire. Another way is bleach with 5% sodium hypochlorite. Ozone might also destroy some mycotoxins.

Some companies also claim to have chemical products which can neutralize mycotoxins, including trichothecene. You may be able to buy these products, or the company might come and remove the mycotoxins for you.

Aflatoxin Mycotoxins

Aflatoxin mycotoxins is a type of mycotoxin produced by toxic molds, such as Aspergillus. These mycotoxins are very toxic and carcinogenic.

The most important aflatoxin mycotoxins are B1, B2, G1, G2 and M1. B1 is the most abundant aflatoxin mycotoxin. It is also the most toxic and carcinogenic. M1 is a mycotoxin that comes from animals after the animals have eaten feed contaminated with aflatoxin mycotoxins. For example, M1 can be in cows milk after cows have eaten aflatoxin mycotoxins.

Aflatoxin mycotoxins mainly affect agriculture. Toxic molds, such as Aspergillus, leave aflatoxin mycotoxins on crops they grow on. These aflatoxin mycotoxins can then end up in food. However, there are processes to remove aflatoxin mycotoxins from crops after harvest. There are also limits set for the maximum amount of aflatoxin mycotoxins in food (20 parts per billion).

Trichothecene Mycotoxins

Trichothecene mycotoxins is a type of mycotoxin produced by toxic molds, such as Fusarium molds and Stachybotrys chartarum (also known as "black mold" or "black toxic mold").

Trichothecene is one of the most toxic types of mycotoxins. Trichothecene mycotoxins also suppress the immune system. See Black Mold Symptoms for information about the symptoms caused by trichothecene and Stachybotrys.

Some of the trichothecene mycotoxins are deoxynivalenol, nivalenol, vomitoxin, HT-2 and T-2 mycotoxin. T-2 mycotoxins have been used in biological warfare.

Trichothecene mycotoxins have caused problems in houses. This is because toxic molds which produce trichothene mycotoxins (such as Stachybotrys) often grow in homes. Trichothecene mycotoxins are also very resilient and stable, and they are hard to remove from homes.

Trichothecene mycotoxins are also often produced on crops. For example, grains like maize, oats, and wheat.

Mycotoxins Testing

You can test your home for mycotoxins. There are professional mold and mycotoxin companies who will test samples for you. They will then tell you if you have mycotoxins in your home.

You can contact a mycotoxin testing company to find out the procedure for getting mycotoxin tests. Normally, you would first collect samples from your home. You would label each sample with the location (eg bathroom wall), and the time it was taken. Then you mail these samples to a mycotoxin testing lab.

The people at mold and mycotoxin testing labs are highly trained, and they use sophisticated equipment. They will test for the presence of many different mycotoxins. You can usually expect to get the results of the tests in about a week.

The general procedures for taking samples are below.

There's also testing which can tell you if you have toxic mold in your house. These tests might not tell you the amount of mycotoxins in your home, though. (Black Toxic Mold Testing and Inspection)

Bulk Testing for Mycotoxins

To bulk test for mycotoxins, you collect a piece of material you think is contaminated (eg a piece of wallpaper). You then seal it in an envelope, or something similar, and label it. Next, you mail it to a mycotoxin testing lab.

You should wear protection, such as gloves and a mask. Also, try not to stir up dust. The sample should be at least 20cm x 20cm (8 inches x 8 inches). The samples should be kept separate. They should be sealed in separate envelopes.

Some common materials you can sample are wallpaper, drywall, cardboard, insulation, fabrics and carpet. You should sample the materials you think are contaminated.

Surface Testing for Mycotoxins

If you cannot remove a piece of a material, then you can swab the surface instead. You can use wet cotton gauze pads to swab contaminated surfaces. The sampled area should be at least 30cm x 30cm (12 inches x 12 inches). You then seal the sample, and send it to a mycotoxin testing lab.

Dust Testing for Mycotoxins

You can take a sample of dust from a contaminated area of your home. You should collect at least a teaspoon of the dust. You then seal the dust and send it to the mycotoxin testing lab.

Some good spots to collect dust are usually the HVAC, air conditioning filters, and ducts.

Testing People for Mycotoxins

There may also be mycotoxin testing to see if you have mycotoxins in your body. You should talk to a mold or mycotoxin professional about this.

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