Can we use indoor fungi as bioindicators of indoor air quality? Historical perspectives and open questions

João P S Cabral
Science of the Total Environment 2010 September 15, 408 (20): 4285-95
Microbiological analysis of atmospheres witnessed substantial technical improvements in the 1940s to 1960s. May's cascade impactor and Hirst's spore trap allowed the counting of total cells but had limited capacity for identification of the spores. Bourdillon's sampler enabled the counting of cultivable fungi and their identification. A great step forward was given with the Andersen's six-stage impactor, which allowed discrimination of particles by size, counting of cultivable cells, and species identification. This period also witnessed the development of impingers, namely, the AGI-30 described by Malligo and Idoine, and the three-stage model designed by K. R. May. The 1990s to 2000s witnessed innovative discoveries on the biology of indoor fungi. Work carried out in several laboratories showed that indoor fungi can release groups of spores, individual spores and fungal fragments, and produce volatile organic compounds and mycotoxins. Integrating all findings a holistic interpretation emerged for the sick building syndrome. Healthy houses and buildings, with low indoor humidity, display no appreciable indoor fungal growth, and outdoor Cladosporium dominates. On the contrary, in sick houses and buildings, high indoor humidity allows fungal growth (mainly of Penicillium and Aspergillus), with concomitant release of conidia and fragments into the atmosphere. The intoxication probably results from a chronic exposure to volatile organic compounds and mycotoxins produced by Penicillium, Aspergillus, and Stachybotrys. Very clean atmospheres are difficult to study by conventional methods. However, some of these atmospheres, namely, those of hospital rooms, should be monitored. Sedimentary sampling, chemical methods applied to impinger's collection liquid, and selected molecular methods can be useful in this context. It was concluded that fungi can be useful indicators of indoor air quality and that it is important to deepen the studies of indoor atmospheres in order to promote air quality, the health and well-being of all, and a better understanding of the biology of indoor fungi.

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