Sick Building Syndrome: Can Wallpaper Literally Make You Sick?

The wallpaper in your house could potentially be a health risk to you and your family. And as a new French study explains, the fungus growing on wallpaper could release toxins into the air and contribute to an illness known as "sick building syndrome."

According to a report from NBC News, the team of French researchers led by the University of Toulouse's Jean-Denis Bailly tested three common fungi types —Penicillium brevicompactum, Aspergillus versicolor, and Stachybotrys chartarum — known to grow inside buildings and discovered that the fungi could and would release toxins into the air in everyday situations.

"These toxins can subsequently be aerosolized, at least partly, from moldy material," the researchers said in a statement.

"This transfer to air requires air velocities that can be encountered in 'real life conditions' in buildings."
The researchers also went into detail, discussing how each of the forms of fungi analyzed in the study could put people at risk of sick building syndrome. It is believed that about 20 percent to 40 percent of buildings in northern Europe and North America have fungal growth visible to the human eye. These include the aforementioned A. versicolor, which was cited as a "potent producer" of the mycotoxin sterigmatocystin (STG), and one of the most common contaminants of buildings and other indoor environments.
The National Institute of Health's official fact sheet states that sick building syndrome is an illness where occupants of a house or building start feeling nonspecific symptoms related to their stay inside the enclosed space. There is usually no other cause for these symptoms, and people suffering from the illness may be localized in one room within a building or home or may be spread out across several rooms or areas. Symptoms may include, but not be limited to, headache, nausea, dizziness, irritation of the eye, nose, or throat, or fatigue, while people may also be more prone to asthma attacks or personality changes in some cases.

For purposes of the study, Bailly and his colleagues grew the three types of fungi on regular wallpaper and performed tests to see if the mycotoxins could spread in the air without any sort of interference.

According to Bailly, a majority of the airborne toxins were found on fungal spores, but there was also proof that some of the harmful content was found on "very small particles," such as dust or small bits of wallpaper. This makes it easier for people to inhale the tiny particles, which could then penetrate into the respiratory tract, putting them at risk of illness.

Researchers have warned that coffee makers could also be conducive to fungal growth inside homes. [Image by Panyathep Chommueng/Shutterstock]

In conclusion, Bailly and his team believe that their findings prove sick building syndrome can be avoided through proper risk assessment.

"It seems important to take these data in consideration for risk assessment related to fungal contamination of indoor environment and the possible toxicity associated to inhalation of these toxins," he said.

Additionally, Bailly noted that energy-efficient homes or water-reliant home appliances like coffee makers may increase the presence of toxins in wallpaper and subsequently increase the odds of people getting sick building syndrome at home by creating "favorable conditions for fungal growth."

[Featured Image by vipman/Shutterstock]