Odors From Volatile Organic Compounds From Fungi

There are 3 main health concerns from exposure to fungi (molds) in air, water, habitat, or food: 1) INFECTIONS- Some fungi species like Aspergillus, Candida, Cryptococcus, and Histoplamosis can cause serious and sometimes life- threatening infections, 2) ALLERGENS. Fungi produce many allergenic (allergy producing) compounds which can worsen asthma, sinusitis, and other allergic conditions, and 3) MYCOTOXINS.  


Joan Bennett and Arati Inamdar. Are some volatile organic compounds (VOCs) mycotoxins? Toxins 2015;7:3785-804.

Fungi produce a wide variety of toxic compounds call mycotoxins which have a wide range of adverse health effects. Most of the known allergens and mycotoxins produced by fungi are present as solids in room temperature.

However, molds also produce a wide variety of volatile orangic compounds (VOCs)- which are either gases or volatile liquids at room temperature. These VOCs give molds their distinctly pungent, “moldy” or “mildew” odors. Many of these chemicals give off strong odors and can be detected by the human nose at air concentrations of less than 1 part per billion. Some of the most common mold produced VOCs include: 2-methyl-1-propanol, 3-methyl-1-butanol, 3-methyl-2-butanol, 2-pentanol, 3-octanol, 1-octen-3-ol, 2-octen-3-ol, 3-methylfuran, 2-hexanone, 2-heptanone, 3-octanone, 2-methylisoborneol, 2-isopropyl-3-methoxy-pyrazine, geosmin, and dimethyl disulphide.

These mold produced VOC odors can be useful for detecting presence of certain molds which have infection risk and/or produce significant allergens and mycotoxins. For example, Stachybotrys chartarum and Aspergillus versicolor produce significant quantities of solid mycotoxins and both fungi produce significant quantities of dimethyl sulfide. Dimethyl sulfide gives off an odor which is described as “rotting meat” of “human feces”. Dimethyl sulfide can be detected by the human nose at air concentrations of only 0.03 parts per billion. 3-methyl-1-butanol is an odor described as “earthy, musty”, and can be detected at 0.9 parts per billion. 3-methyl-1-butanol has an odor described as “sour, sharp, or malty” and can be detected at concentrations of 10 parts per billion.

Beverage alcohol or ethanol is also produced by many fungi (such as the yeasts used to make beer or wine), which also has a distinctive odor and can also be considered a volatile liquid mycotoxin. 

Dogs trained to detect mold produced VOC odors have been successfully used to detect hard to find sources of mold growth (such as mold growing inside air vents or crawl spaces). Dogs have been also been trained to successfully detect several cancers by smelling the volatile organic compounds produced by the cancers.

Mold related VOCs have been linked to many indoor health related problems such as asthma, fatigue, poor concentration & memory, headaches, skin and eye irritation, and “sick building syndrome”.

Much more study is needed on the possible health effects of fungal produce volatile organic compounds.



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