OBJECTIVE: To examine the role of fungi in the production of sick building syndrome. METHODS: A 22 month study in the United States of 48 schools (in which there had been concerns about health and indoor air quality (IAQ). Building indoor air and surface samples, as well as outdoor air samples were taken at all sites to look for the presence of fungi or their viable propagules. RESULTS: Five fungal genera were consistently found in the outdoor air and comprised over 95% of the outdoor fungi. These genera were Cladosporium (81.5%), Penicillium (5.2%), Chrysosporium (4.9%), Alternaria (2.8%), and Aspergillus (1.1%). At 20 schools, there were significantly more colony forming units per cubic metre (CFU/m3) (p < 0.0001) of propagules of Penicillium species in the air samples from complaint areas when compared with the outdoor air samples and the indoor air samples from noncomplaint areas. At five schools, there were more, although not significant (p = 0.10), Penicillium propagules in the air samples from complaint areas when compared with the outdoor air samples and the indoor air samples from noncomplaint areas. In 11 schools, the indoor air (complaint areas) fungal ratios were similar to that in the outdoor air. In these 11 schools Stachybotrys atra was isolated from swab samples of visible growth under wetted carpets, on wetted walls, or behind vinyl wall coverings. In the remaining 11 schools, the fungal ratios and CFU/m3 of air were not significantly different in different areas. Many of the schools took remedial action that resulted in an indoor air fungal profile that was similar to that outdoors. CONCLUSIONS: Propagules of Penicillium and Stachybotrys species may be associated with sick building syndrome.
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