Breaking down Mycotoxins and mVOCs with Enzymes and Non-Toxic Cleaners
If you haven’t read our white paper on mold, mycotoxins and mVOCs, you should! While discussing the meanings of these scientific terms with our team, we thought it would be even more helpful to break it down to the vernacular. Mold is like most other living organisms that excrete waste products. Mycotoxins are not similar to excrement, in that they are not secreted because of normal growth, development or reproduction of the mold (they are secondary, not primary metabolites). They are chemicals secreted in offense and defense, and in stressful situations. Thus, mycotoxins are like sweat–the toxic sweat of mold (yuck!). They can be sent aloft into the air on mold spores (which are also released whenever the mold is stressed or physically agitated), or even smaller fragments of mold and dust, which are all easily breathed in.
Microbial Volatile Organic Compou0nds (mVOCs) are gasses as a product of growth, development or reproduction (some are primary metabolites), and as a signal to other microbes around them (secondary metabolites). This means that mold uses mVOCs to communicate and affect the behavior of other molds around it, even as a competitive tool to directly exert antimicrobial activity (suppressing or eliminating potential enemies). (Volatile affairs in microbial interactions) As such, mVOCs are akin to body odor–the toxic body odor of mold, which it uses to intimidate other mold! Although they are meant to signal other microbes, even humans can recognize the smell of some mVOCs in that musty, earthy smell that is a tell-tale sign of mold.
It has been shown that the mycotoxins can be eliminated by various physical means such as thermolysis (destruction by intense heat), radiation treatment and low-temperature plasma (bipolar ionization). They can also be destroyed by chemical methods such as oxidation (removal of electrons), reduction (addition of electrons), hydrolysis (breakdown by reaction with water), alcoholysis (breakdown by reaction with alcohol), absorption and adsorption, and biological methods by using living things like bacteria or other molds. (Enzymes for Detoxification of Various Mycotoxins: Origins and Mechanisms of Catalytic Action) Only two of these methods are permitted to mitigate mycotoxins in foods, however, contamination of raw materials with chemicals and/or products of side reactions limit their use.
Alternatively, using enzymes to detoxify mycotoxins mostly avoids these problems. First of all, what is an enzyme? Enzymes are proteins produced by living organisms that act as catalysts in chemical reactions. Enzymes can either build up or break down. For our purposes, cleaning enzymes facilitate breaking down microbes and their byproducts that cause sickness, stinkiness or stains.
Scientists have been exploring making artificial enzymes since the 1990’s, and many of these are mimicking enzymes found in nature. Here are the most common types of natural enzymes (from Simple Science: How in the World do Enzymes Clean?):
Proteases break down protein-based soils including blood, urine, food, feces, wine and other beverages.
Lipases break down fat molecules like oils and grease.
Amylases break down starch molecules like eggs, sugars, sauces, ice cream, gravy.
Cellulases are used to soften fabric and restore color to fibers made up of cellulose material. They also remove particulate soil and reduce fabric graying and pilling.
Various enzymes can also be combined to treat the combinations of mycotoxins that are produced by some molds. For example, cytochromes are enzymes that include a number of compounds consisting of an iron-containing molecule bonded to a protein (cancer.gov). Cytochromes are usually used within mammals as detoxifying agents of multiple toxic compounds, including mycotoxins. Cytochromes in the human liver are able to convert aflatoxin B1 (a cancer-causing mycotoxin) into Aflatoxin M1, which is 10 times weaker in carcinogenic potency. In turn, glutathione s-transferase, another enzyme in our bodies, leads to the excretion of aflatoxins from the body (2016 study).
Since the enzyme-based approach for degrading mycotoxins in homes is new, there aren’t that many commercial products on the market. In fact, Green Home Solutions claimed in 2022 that it was the “is the only professional remediation company that combines the ANSI/IICRC standards for mold remediation with a state of the art proprietary disinfectant/ fungicide that not only kills bacteria and molds, but continues to work by breaking down the allergenic protein structures into harmless amino acids.” It is only available for professional use, but their product description shows that several enzymes are combined for maximum effect on the broad range of mycotoxins that may be found in a home:
- AMYLASE is an enzyme that digests the mold’s outer membrane or cell wall. It dissolves and causes the insides to leak out.
- LIPASE is another enzyme in our product formula which attacks and breaks down the fatty lipids inside of and in between the mold membranes.
- PROTEASE breaks down allergenic proteins at the mold’s core or nucleus, eliminating them from the air you are breathing.
Since we revealed the real nature of mycotoxins and mVOCs (they’re like toxic sweat and body odor), we thought you might like some real solutions you can use to get rid of these toxins in your home! Elimination of the mold colony is first and foremost, so it’s best to contract an inspector if you can’t find or handle the problem yourself. Getting rid of the bulk of mold will remove much of the mycotoxins and mVOCs, but mycotoxins can still be present in dust (they are very hardy and indestructible by heat), and mVOCs may be present in absorbent furnishings. Here are some products and techniques that can rid your home of the remainder of these toxins.
- Several top mold inspection and remediation companies in the US (The Mold Pros, Indoor Environmental Systems, Inc.) use CleanSeal CS4 as a fog to kill mold and other microbes on contact, with no toxic or lingering chemicals. Since CleanSeal CS4 is 72% alcohol, it evaporates quickly and exceeds the CDC standards for mitigating Coronavirus/COVID-19. It’s also safe to use around people, pets, electronics and fabrics (when properly applied, the fog settles gently and evaporates quickly so that there are no water stains or damage).
- Likewise, EC3 is a non-toxic solution also trusted by many mold remediation companies and mold awareness sites, such as moldfreeliving.com. It is a solution with citrus and essential oils which evaporates quickly and can also be used in the laundry or directly on pets’ fur as a sanitizer from mold.
- MoldStain T-Klear is recommended for all mold and mycotoxin products in use of a fogger or electrostatic sprayer.
- Most MVOCs can be mitigated with activated carbon filters, because they are in a gas form and can flow through and be adsorbed by the carbon molecules. You can try our Germ Defender with carbon filters, or purchase carbon filters for your standalone HEPA unit. Mycotoxins, however, will not be affected by carbon filters because mycotoxins are attached to spores, fragments of spores, and dust, which are not captured by carbon filters.
If you can’t remove all of the mold, the next best thing may be encapsulation. Encapsulation is a controversial method in that it does not physically remove the mold but surrounds it with a protective layer that does not allow it to release spores or mycotoxins into the environment anymore. If encapsulation is done properly, though, it can be a safe method that allows homeowners to save wet drywall and wood that have not dried out completely, by sealing any mold that is present and not allowing more to grow. As demonstrated by EarthPaints, encapsulation either needs to be applied to completely dry substrates, or with a solution that allows the substrate to completely dry over time. Their Lime Prime paint is a non flammable mineral shield that saturates wood fiber cells and pozzolanically reacts with concrete and gypsum. Encapsulated Substrates dry out properly and in 30-60 days are ready for follow up after a flood. (earthpaint.net) The problem with mold encapsulation is that it must completely coat surfaces in a space with a durable non-toxic product, and of course the space must be clean and dehumidified, or the mold will “break through” and continue growing as dust and moisture allow it to propagate. For more information on whether encapsulation is right for a space in your home, this article by a building biologist is very helpful.Once again, we also find that bi-polar ionization (used in the Germ Defender, Air Angel and Whole-Home Purifier) should be effective against mycotoxins in the home. Because bipolar ionization sends out positive and negative ions that cause small particles to clump together and fall out of the air, this reduction in particles means a reduction in mycotoxins, since mycotoxins ride on spores and fragments of mold. More testing is needed in residential and commercial settings to confirm this, however, our case studies using bipolar ionization to reduce mold spore counts without any additional filters, are quite extraordinary!