Occurrence and diversity of waterborne fungi and associated mycotoxins in treated drinking water distribution system in South Africa: implications on water quality and public health

Environ Monit Assess. 2020 Jul 15;192(8):519. doi: 10.1007/s10661-020-08477-x.


Despite increased public health concerns on the occurrences of potentially pathogenic/mycotoxigenic fungi in public drinking water system, dissemination of hygienically relevant fungi and their associated mycotoxins via distribution system under the dual burden of ageing infrastructure and ancillary distribution network lacking infrastructure for high-pressure water delivery systems is unknown. In this study, the diversity of fungi and occurrence of mycotoxins at 30 different points along treated piped water supply and ancillary distribution networks in Johannesburg, South Africa, were monitored for 12 months. Mycological analysis using cultural and molecular methods yielded 282 fungi belonging to phylum Ascomycota, having Aspergillus (91%), Penicillium (65%) and Trichoderma (31%) as dominant genera, with Aspergillus fumigatus, Penicillium citrinum, Purpureocillium lilacinum and Aspergillus flavus as the most prevalent species. Communal standpipe and reservoir outlets had significantly higher prevalence than other water samples. There was no strong correlation between total coliforms (r = 0.4266) and residual chlorine (r = - 0.1937), and fungal prevalence at p < 0.05. LC-MS/MS analysis detected aflatoxins B1, M1, G1 and G2 in 50, 9, 9 and 46% of water samples analysed, respectively, ranging between 0 and 3.18 ng/l. Deoxynivalenol (DON), 3-acetyl DON and 15-acetyl DON levels were between 8.4-96.1, 18.7-145.7 and 15.2-71.6 ng/l, respectively. However, the estimated average daily dose (ADD) for detected mycotoxins was below the tolerable daily intake (TDI), suggesting no toxicological risk. Presence of potentially mycotoxigenic fungi, despite the low toxicological risk, demonstrates a need for appropriate monitoring for fungi and mycotoxins in treated drinking water distribution systems for improved water quality and long-term public health assurance.

Keywords: Drinking water; Fungi; Mycotoxins; Public health; Water quality.

MeSH terms

  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Drinking Water*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Food Contamination / analysis
  • Fungi
  • Mycotoxins / analysis*
  • Public Health
  • South Africa
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Water Quality


  • Drinking Water
  • Mycotoxins