Hurricane Harvey
A Potential Mold & Mycotoxin Health Nightmare

Ross Pelton, RPh, PhD, CCN
September 5, 2017

The disaster known as Hurricane Harvey has prompted me to write this brief report. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Brock Long stated, “Harvey is probably the worst disaster in Texas history.”

I’m writing this report to emphasize the health hazards that can result from exposure to mold and I also want to provide some proactive tips that will help people prevent or minimize mold-related health problems if they do get exposed to molds.

Molds are a type of fungus that grow exceedingly well in damp, wet environments. Hurricane Harvey will create a mecca for mold growth. Virtually every home or building that sustains flood damage will experience mold growth.

While not all types of mold are harmful, many are classified as toxic molds. Molds reproduce by forming spores, which are so small they are not visible to the naked eye. It is the spores produced by toxic molds that contain extremely toxic compounds called mycotoxins. The spores are so tiny and lightweight that they easily travel through the air. While exposure can come from ingestion (eating) or from topical (skin) absorption, by far the most common and dangerous form of exposure comes from inhalation, or breathing the mold spores.

We have natural defense mechanisms that prevent many inhaled substances from entering our lungs such as coughing, sneezing, nasal mucous and also nasal hairs that act as filters. However, mold spores are so tiny they can bypass our defenses and gain entry into the lungs. In addition to their small size, mold spores can overwhelm our defenses by the sheer magnitude of their numbers. Measuring from 1 to 20 microns in size, approximately 250,000 spores can fit on the head of a pin and people often inhale in excess of 500,000 spores per minute in a moldy environment.

Once mold spores and/or their mycotoxins enter the lungs and pass into systemic circulation, they often cause inflammatory responses in the body that can manifest as multi-symptom and multi-system health problems. In fact, mold toxicity is often misdiagnosed because the symptoms can mimic so many other illnesses.


Some mycotoxins are known to increase the risk of developing cancer. Thus, cancer is another health risk associated with exposure to molds and mycotoxins in water damaged buildings in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Aflatoxins, which are known to occur in water damaged buildings, are powerful known carcinogens.[i] In fact the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is the specialized cancer agency for the World Health Organization (WHO), has classified aflatoxins as a Category 1 carcinogen.[ii]


Exposure to molds and mycotoxins create intense inflammation and free radical oxidative stress. Glutathione plays a major role as an antioxidant and a key regulator of detoxification to combat mycotoxin toxicity. However, exposure to mold and mycotoxins frequently overwhelm the body’s ability to synthesize glutathione. Consequently, glutathione depletion is a common finding in patients suffering from mold and mycotoxin exposure.[iii] In fact, increased inflammatory activity during mycotoxin exposure may be in large part due to mycotoxin-induced glutathione depletion.[iv]

At low doses, the body detoxifies mycotoxins such as aflatoxin by binding the toxin to glutathione, which then gets excreted.[v] However, at higher levels of exposure, glutathione levels are depleted. When this happens, the mycotoxins exert their toxic effects by damaging cells throughout the body, especially nerves, lungs, kidneys and the liver. Hence, mycotoxins are classified as neurotoxins (nerves), hepatotoxins (liver), nephrotoxins (kidneys) and immunotoxins (immune system). Actually, mycotoxins are toxic to every tissue and organ system in the body.[vi]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) emphasizes the importance of identifying fungal, mold and mycotoxin diseases early enough in the course of a patient’s illness to provide life-saving treatment. To highlight seriousness of fungal & mold-related diseases, the CDC created and launched the first Fungal Disease Awareness Week which ran from August 14-18, 2017. A Fungal Disease Awareness Week video and many helpful resources are available at the following link:


Boosting glutathione levels is one of the most proactive things people can do to help protect themselves if they are in an area where there is a greater risk of being exposed to molds and mycotoxins. There are several ways to boost glutathione levels. Nutritional precursors for glutathione synthesis include N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), lipoic acid, selenium and the herb milk thistle.  Active glutathione (also known as reduced glutathione) can be administered intravenously (IV), in a nebulizer and orally in liposomal delivery systems.


In 1995 a unique strain of probiotic bacteria named Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 (often referred to simply as ME-3) was found to synthesize glutathione. In a human clinical trial, individuals taking ME-3 gained a remarkable 49% increase in the ratio of reduced to oxidized glutathione.[vii]  Hence, products containing Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 have recently attracted world-wide recognition as the fastest and most efficient way to reliably boost glutathione levels on a daily basis.

A wide variety of facemasks that filter out mold spores as well as pollen, dust and air borne bacteria are available on

Air purifiers with HEPA filters

Air purifiers that utilize HEPA filters are important devices that clean indoor air environments and help protect people from breathing in mold spores. HEPA stands for High Efficiency Particulate Air filters. HEPA filters as defined by the United States Department of Energy (DOE) are required to remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles 0.3 micrometers (µm) in diameter. Since mold spores range in size from 1 to 20 microns, air purifiers that contain HEPA filters are an excellent way to eliminate airborne mold spores from indoor air environments.

Here are some companies that market high quality air purifiers utilizing HEPA filters. These companies can be located on or by conducting a Google search using the company’s name. The price range for these systems is approximately between $350-$600.


Blueair 503 HepaSilent Air-Purification System

Pionair air purification systems using photocatalysis technology

Molekule which utilizes Photo Electrochemical Oxidation (PECO) technology

Be safe, be careful, and good luck to all the people that have suffered from the impact of Hurricane Harvey.

[i] Tuomi T, et al. Mycotoxins in Crude Building Materials from Water-Damaged Buildings. Apple Environ Microbiol. 2000 May;66(5):1899-1904.
[ii] International Agency for Research on Cancer. Some naturally occurring substances: food items and constituents, heterocyclic aromatic amines and mycotoxins. Lyon, France: World Health Organization; 1993.
[iii] Guilford FT, Hope J. Deficient Glutathione in the Pathophysiology of Mycotoxin-Related Illness. Toxins (Basel). 2014 feb 10;6(2):608-623.
[iv] Johannessen LN, et al. Mycotoxin-induced depletion of intracellular glutathione and altered cytokine production in the human alveolar epithelial cell line A549. Toxic Lett. 2007 Jan 30;168(2):103-12.
[v] Roebuck BD, et al. Transgenic Expression of Aflatoxin Aldehyde Reductase (AKR7A1) Modulates Aflatoxin B1 Metabolism but not Hepatic Carcinogenesis in the Rat. Toxicological Sciences, Volume 109, Issue 1, 1 May 2009, Pages 41–49.
[vi] Bennett JW, Klich M. Mycotoxins. Clin Microbien Rev. 2003 July;16(3):497-516.
[vii] Mikelsaar M, Zilmer M., Lactobacillus fermentum ME-3 – an antimicrobial and antioxidative probiotic. Microb Ecol Health Dis. 2009 Apr; 21(1): 1–27.