How Fast Does Mould Grow On Building Materials?

Under experimental conditions moulds are found to cover artificially inoculated building materials in 4-10 days. For example, fast growing strains of Stachybotrys chartarum produce visible mould growth on new water-damaged gypsum boards in 5 days. Slow growing strains of Stachybotrys take 14 days to completely cover the test materials. These observations suggest that visible mould growth could appear within 1-3 weeks after water damage. Under natural conditions mould growth is influenced by a number of factors.

Key factors that determine how fast mould grows

  1. Type of mould: All moulds don’t grow at the same rate. Some moulds grow faster than others. For example, under the same conditions of growth, Ulocladium would grow faster than Stachybotrys.
  2. Temperature: Moulds grow faster at or closer to their optimal temperature for growth. For most indoor moulds the optimal temperature is around 25 °C. However, mould can still grow at temperatures as low as -7 °C. Some species of Cladosporium and Penicillium are capable of growing on wood at -5 °C although spore germination requires at least 0 °C. At low temperatures mould growth is very slow.
  3. Water activity: Growth rate of mould increases with increasing water activity. Most indoor moulds have their optimal water activity at 0.96-0.98. Lowering the water activity of the material lowers the growth rate significantly. However, a few species such as some species of Aspergillus, Penicillium, Eurotium and Wallemia are able to grow at lower water activities. Germination of spores requires slightly higher water activity than the minimum required for growth.
  4. White wood-rotting fungus

  5. Age of the spores: Older spores require longer time to germinate than relatively younger spores.
  6. The spore load: If a building is full of settled viable spores, mould would cover a wider area in a shorter time, than, if there were a few settled spores.
  7. Composition of the building material: Most building materials derived from plants are highly susceptible to mould attack. For instance, wallpaper allow fast growth for cellulolytic moulds such as Chaetomium and Stachybotrys.
    • pH of the material: pH of the material strongly influences the rate of mould growth, sporulation and metabolite production. Some moulds such as Aspergillus fumigatus grow best in the pH range from 4-7 and less well at acidic and basic extremes.
    • Nutrient availability in the material: Growth could be unrestricted if all nutrients are in excess but restricted when not all nutrients are in excess.
    • Presence of antimicrobial compounds in building materials: Some building materials contain antimicrobial compounds. These compounds slow down mould growth.
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  8. Competition with other micro-organisms: In a moisture damaged environment, there is a great diversity of microorganism. These microorganisms (including bacteria) compete for nutrients and also produce by-products that may inhibit the growth of other microorganisms. Fast growing moulds tend to over-grow slow growers.
  9. Picture of black mold in basement

Conclusion

Since there are many factors that influence mould growth in buildings, it is hard to say when mould growth started. However, if we know where and when the moisture problem started, we could speculate how long the mould growth has been there.

References

  1. Nielsen, K. F. (2002). Mould growth on building materials. Secondary metabolites, mycotoxins, and biomarkers. Ph.D. Thesis. BioCentrum-DTU, Technical University of Denmark.
  2. Nielsen, K. F., Holm, G., Uttrup, L. P & Nielsen, P. A. (2004). Mould growth on building materials under low water activities. Influence of humidity and temperature on fungal growth and secondary metabolism. International Biodeterioration & Biodegredation, 54(4) 325-336
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Water Damaged Homes: The Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colonizers.

If a water problem in a building is not repaired and the water dried out within 48 hours, growth of mould and other microorganisms would naturally occur. The types of moulds predominant at anyone time would be determined by the level of moisture in the building material. This level of moisture is usually referred to as the water activity and it determines the order in which different categories of moulds appear. The first group of moulds to appear (at water activities less than 0.85) is referred to as the primary colonizers, the second group (at water activities of 0.85-0.90) is secondary colonizers and the third group (at water activities greater than 0.90) is the tertiary colonizers.

Primary colonizers
The primary colonizers are capable of growing at water activities below 0.85. This group may include Alternaria citri, Eurotium amstelodami, Aspergillus candidus, Aspergillus glaucus, Aspergillus niger, Aspergillus penicillioides, Aspergillus repens, Aspergillus restrictus, Aspergillus versicolor, Paecilomyces variotii, Penicillium aurantiogriseum, Penicillium brevicompactum, Penicillium chrysogenum, Penicillium commune, Penicillium expansum, Penicillium griseofulvum, and Wallemia sebi.

Secondary colonizers
Secondary colonizers grow best at water activities of 0.85 to 0.90. Secondary colonizers may include Aspergillus flavus, Cladosporium cladosporioides, Cladosporium herbarum, Cladosporium sphaerospermum, Mucor circinelloides, and Rhizopus oryzae.

Tertiary colonizers
At water activities greater than 0.90, tertiary colonizers appear. These may include Alternaria alternata, Aspergillus fumigatus, Epicoccum spp., Exophiala spp., Fusarium moniliforme, Mucor plumbeus, Phoma herbarum, Phialophora spp., Rhizopus spp., Stachybotrys chartarum, Trichoderma spp., Ulocladium spp., Rhodotorula spp., Sporobolomyces spp., and Actinomycetes.

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What Are Some Of The Mycotoxins Producing Indoor Moulds?

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. While these moulds grow, they reach a stage when they produce mycotoxins depending on the growth conditions. Some of the indoor moulds that produce mycotoxins are discussed below.

Stachybotrys chartarum
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 other water-loving moulds on cellulose containing materials including paper, canvas and jute which are wetted to a water activity > 0.98. Stachybotrys chartarum produces a number of mycotoxins inclduding macrocyclic trichothecenes, satratoxins and roridins when growing on building materials. The optimum temperature for growth of 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 at 0.89.

Aspergillus flavus
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 mycotoxins such as aflatoxin, a class 1 carcinogen. The minimum and maximum temperatures 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
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 for A. fumigatus is 0.82 and the optimum is 0.97.

Aspergillus niger
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 mycotoxins such as malformins and a few strains also produce ochratoxin A. A. niger requires a minimum temperature for growth of 6 and maximum of 47 oC with an optimum at 37 oC.

Aspergillus versicolor
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 (< 0.8). The minimum and maximum growth temperatures for A. versicolor are 4 and 40 oC with an optimum at 30 oC. Its optimal water activity is 0.95 with a minimum at 0.75.

Penicillium chrysogenum
Penicillium chrysogenum is one of the most common indoor moulds. It’s not known to produce highly potent mycotoxins. 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
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
Chaetomium globosum is common on cellulose containing building materials that has been very wet such as gypsum board, cellulose board and wood. Species of the genus Chaetomium are known to produce mycotoxins. C. globosum produces high quantities of chaetoglobosins. C. globosum requires a water activity of >0.90.

Trichoderma species
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 its esters.

References
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

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Which Moulds Grow in Buildings And Why Do They Grow?

The level of moisture (usually referred to as water activity) in building material determines not only whether mould will grow or not but also the types that colonize the material. Damp materials with a water activity value equal to or greater than 0.90 are usually colonized by strains of Aspergillus fumigatus, Trichoderma spp., Exophiala spp., Stachybotrys spp., Phialophora spp., Fusarium spp., Ulocladium spp., and yeasts such as Rhodotorula spp. Materials with a water activity value ranging from 0.90 – 0.85 are colonized by Aspergillus versicolor while those with water activity values of 0.85 or slightly less are colonized by Aspergillus versicolor, Eurotium spp., Wallemia spp., and Penicillium spp., such as Penicillium chrysogenum and Penicillium aurantiogriseum.

Water leakage through roofs, defective plumbing installations and condensation are the main sources for water damage with subsequent mould growth. The building materials most susceptible to mould attacks are water damaged, aged organic cellulose containing materials such as wood, jute, wallpaper, and cardboard. Moulds that are most frequently encountered in buildings are Penicillium (68%), Aspergillus (56%), Chaetomium (22%), Ulocladium (21%), Stachybotrys (19%), Cladosporium (15%), Acremonium (14%), Mucor (14%), Paecilomyces (10%), Alternaria (8%), Verticillium (8%), and Trichoderma (7%). These moulds are all known to cause different types of inhalation allergy.

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