Environmental Fungi

What are Environmental Fungi?

Extract from the introduction to the PhD Thesis by Principle IAQ Assessor Dr Peter Kemp

Fungi comprise approximately one quarter of the biomass of the planet (Miller, 1992) and are the most frequently occurring airborne micro-organisms in both indoor and outdoor environments (Mouilleseaux & Squinazi, 1994; Levetin, 1995; Downs et al., 2001; Chao et al., 2002). Environmental fungi are a distinct category because they are the everyday fungi that we deal with. This is very distinct from medical (clinical) mycology, which is concerned with a very small range of fungi that are able to penetrate and survive inside (and on) the human body.

Their ubiquity and their almost universal environmental impact affect mankind in numerous ways (Jennings & Lysek, 1999). In some cases fungi make themselves dramatically evident by causing significant damage to buildings, such as the structural decay of timber constructions (for e.g. dry-rot caused by Basidiomycetes) (Jennings & Lysek, 1999). Yet, fungi are also used in many beneficial ways including in bread making, brewing, and making medicines and drugs.

Normally, our everyday exposure to airborne fungi in the outdoor air presents little or no risk to our health. However, the airborne fungi in the artificial environments of our buildings and dwellings have an altered composition, which can create an environment with the potential to greatly affect human health (Stetzenbach, 1997). This has led to the understanding that fungi can be a major cause of both illness and the severity of general symptoms, such as sick building syndrome (SBS), which are related to the amount of time spent indoors (Johanning, 1994; Lewis, 1994).