Preface: The author of this article used a greenhouse tray of coconut peat pellets for germinating seeds. This product was made by a well-known company and was purchased at Home Depot. Filtered water was added per the manufacturer’s instructions. Shortly after germinating seeds, mold appeared in the tray. Note: The author stresses reading all reference links and has no personal gain associated with the companies, products or brands mentioned herein. This is a public service announcement (PSA) to create acute awareness of contaminants in agriculture, ongoing health risks and a viable solution.

Where did the mold come from?

Fungicide is linked to pathology in vape illness and deaths. Heated fungicide converts to hydrogen cyanide. Be aware. Demand a Certificate of Analysis (COA) to ensure purity.

Public Service Announcement videos and media interviews at

Abstract: Diseased and contaminated agriculture is a chronic problem worldwide. This report resulted from a proactive search for the source of plant mold, heavy metal, pathogen, and insect contamination in diseased crops. Referenced inputs are substrate, soil, nutrients, fertilizer and water. A suggested new industry best-practice for growing contamination-free plants (hydroponics and outdoor) with substrate resulted. 

References are as follows:


  • Certified contaminant-free organic coconut substrates
  • Certified organic phytonutrients, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides
  • Pure structured water
  • Certificate of Analysis (COA)

When researching a solution, one must reflect upon the start of the issue. If a grower experiences mold, heavy metal, pathogen or insect larvae contamination in their plants, one must inspect the quality of all agriculture inputs. Referenced inputs are substrate, soil, fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide and water. All inputs are vital throughout the plant lifecycle and each presents a pathway to introduce contaminants into agriculture. Fertilizer is a primary focus of heavy metal contamination. However, this report focuses on plant substrate transmitted disease (STD) sources.


“You are what you eat” is the theme of this report; know the source.

Protecting agriculture from disease and contamination requires preventive measures, as crop loss results in devastating economic impact11. The global food & agriculture technology and products12 market size is projected to grow from USD 494.9 billion in 2018 to USD 729.5 billion by 2023.

Worldwide organic food and drink sales surpassed $100 billion for the first time in 2018, according to new research13. A news report14 on organics states, “…the key market is the US, where 83% of families buy some organic products,” followed by Germany and France.

Organic produce sales in 2018 exceeded $50 billion15 in the U.S., up 6.3% from 2017. A market report cites, “Millennials are pushing for transparency and integrity in the food supply chain, and they are savvy to misleading marketing.” Millennials will overtake Boomers in 2019 and represent 73 million consumers16. The current world population17 is 7.7 billion people.


A microcosm of agriculture purity is cannabis (“marijuana”, medical “marijuana” and industrial hemp), due to laboratory analysis that gives visibility to heavy metals, mold, and pathogens. Recent news reports on cannabis recalls from contaminated plant products include Canada (mold18, pesticides19) and USA/Nevada (mold and yeast20); there are no geographic boundaries to this problem.

In a first-ever international cannabis trade agreement21 between German health ministry and Danish authorities, “German health authorities, at least, seem doubtful that Canadian companies can provide enough regulated product. Even by import. The Deutsche Börse has put the entire public Canadian and American cannabis sector under special watch since last summer.”

Testing for plant STDs prior to sale is industry standard with cannabis. If no contaminants are listed on a certificate of analysis (COA), the product can be sold. Otherwise a product that shows contaminants exceeding suggested industry standards is not healthy for human or pet consumption. Recalls are resulting in legal action, industry disruption22 and financial losses.

With all agriculture, contamination passes through the plant with a high probability of affecting an entire crop. An indoor growing environment (hydroponic) functions with a continuous flow of phytonutrients and water. This environment is suitable for contaminant introduction and proliferation. For field agriculture the same effect occurs with contaminants leaching into the soil, remaining for decades in the case of heavy metals. Contaminants can be airborne and can also transmit via insects.

Media reports of contaminated oil being concentrated into vape cartridges and sold are prevalent in the news. U.S. national news23 reports that it is “not the oil”. Deaths from use of contaminated cannabis products have resulted and laboratory analysis shows that injury and deaths are occurring from FUNGICIDE. Heated fungicide converts to hydrogen cyanide. Continual exposure to hydrogen cyanide in the lungs is creating injury and death. How fungicide enters the equation is explained in this report.


Figure 1: Photo credit The Guardian - Ireland peat bog closures
Figure 1: Photo credit The Guardian - Ireland peat bog closures
Figure 2: Photo credit Cargo Handbook – coco peat
Figure 2: Photo credit Cargo Handbook – coco peat
Figure 3: Photo credit Wikipedia - coconut coir
Figure 3: Photo credit Wikipedia - coconut coir

Referencing seedlings or “babies”, if plant STDs did not originate in the young plant from a separate grower, it is prudent to analyze the original grower’s inputs and equipment for contamination. Plant seeds and seedlings grow outdoors in soil while hydroponic growers use substrate, a soilless material. Both soil and substrate provide the structure for root formation and stability. Substrate provides physical structure, space for oxygen flow, moisture and nutrient retention. All elements are required for healthy root development and plant lifecycle support.

Common types of substrate include peat moss, coconut coir (coy-er; “coco coir”) and coconut pith (“coco peat”). Harvesting of peat moss reportedly creates CO2 greenhouse gasses24. Replenishing takes years making it unsustainable. Peat is being banned in the UK25 by 2020 and Ireland closed peat bogs26 to address CO2 emissions and climate change.

Coconut coir is a sustainable substrate with up to five years of reuse. It is suitable for replacing peat moss. Coco coir and coco peat are popular substrates used in hydroponic grow operations and will remain the focus of the remainder of this discussion.


True organic certification is time consuming and costly. Much proactive care and expense goes into producing premier quality, certified organic food products for discerning consumers. Prior to distribution to consumers, consideration must be placed on:

  • where plants are grown
  • what inputs are used
  • what grows around the plant
  • how the plant is processed
  • storage prior to shipping

Coconut farms that supply food products and coconut byproducts, including coco coir and coco peat, are not governed the same way. It is the manufacturer’s decision to determine the source location, surrounding environment, method of cultivating, harvesting, processing, and packaging for consumers. When researching this report, it became clear that consumers have no visibility to these decisions by the manufacturer. What is somewhat clear on coconut coir and coconut peat websites is the curing and drying process.

The question that remains is, “How do contaminants get into the coconut coir and pith?”


How do heavy metals get into plants? Phytoremediation uses “accumulator” plants to remove toxins from soil; mushrooms, cannabis and many others27 are effective phytoremediation plants. These “accumulator” plants are like sponges absorbing nutrients and contaminants alike through the root system. Industrial hemp has a reported 25,000 uses. A popular industrial hemp product is cannabidiol (CBD). Post-phytoremediation industrial hemp is not recommended for consumption. However, industrial hemp used in phytoremediation can convert to a biofuel28.

For consumers, cannabis must have contaminant-free verification prior to supply chain distribution. Only if a certificate of analysis (COA) indicates that a cannabis crop is contaminant-free can it be sold to consumers. Otherwise it is not healthy for human or pet consumption and will result in a recall.

Popularity of cannabis has increased significantly with consumers. Industrial hemp returned to the U.S. after nearly ninety years of prohibition, with the passing of the 2018 “Farm Bill”. At the time of this writing, more than half of U.S. states29 permit legal cannabis sales to consumers; thirty-three U.S. states have legalized medical marijuana and eleven states have legalized recreational marijuana consumption.

Select U.S. states30 enacted heavy metals testing as industry standard. Reported permitted parts per microgram (μg) are (respirable products/other products): 0.2/0.5 ppm cadmium, arsenic 0.2/1.5, 0.5/0.5 ppm lead, and 0.1/3.0 ppm mercury. All these contaminants are known to produce health problems in humans.

Figure 4: Photo credit - Analytical Cannabis


Plants with “root rot” and “dampening off” result in death of plants. The pathogens Pythium and Fusarium are two of many that cause plant disease and death. It is the opinion of some that “root rot” does not affect humans. Yet, the CDC has reported human health issues resulting in death from Human Pythiosis31 and research shows instances of Fusarium infections in immunocompromised patients32. Yeast is a pathogen recently detected and reported33 in cannabis that triggered a product recall and consumer health warning. For people with a weakened immune system, pathogens create allergic reactions.  


Figure 5: Photo Credit Wikipedia Fusarium oxysporum
Figure 5: Photo Credit Wikipedia Fusarium oxysporum
Figure 6: Photo Credit Wikipedia - Pythium
Figure 6: Photo Credit Wikipedia - Pythium
Fusarium root rot cannabis - tandfonline
Fusarium root rot cannabis - tandfonline

Pathogens are defined as, “A bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.” A recent report34 on Pythium and Fusarium pathogens causing “root rot” affects, “…field crops worldwide, e.g. beans, cilantro, opium, spinach, strawberry, soybean and tobacco,” and, “… various crops grown in hydroponic systems, including lettuce, cucumber, tomato, sweet pepper and roses.” The report cites Pythium, “…to cause crown and root rot on field-grown hemp and damping-off on hemp seedlings”.


Figure 8: Photo credit Leafly – mold on cannabis
Figure 8: Photo credit Leafly – mold on cannabis
Figure 9: Photo credit Urban Ag News - baby spinach with mild Pythium root rot
Figure 9: Photo credit Urban Ag News - baby spinach with mild Pythium root rot
Figure 10: Photo credit State by State Gardening - dampening off
Figure 10: Photo credit State by State Gardening - dampening off

The term “dampening off” is sudden death in plant seedlings. This condition is caused by fungal disease and pathogens including Pythium and Fusarium. The plant rots at the stem and root below the soil surface. A few days after germination, the sprouting plants wilt, fall over and die.

Mold is multicellular fungi that grow in thread-like structures called hyphae. Single cell fungi are referred to as yeasts. Mold can grow in any environment with a constant source of moisture. Plant mold starves vital oxygen flow. If mold spores are present, it will proliferate. Mold spores are transferred through the air by gnats and other insect larvae.


Researchers at Texas A&M35 report an unlikely non-chemical tool to battle plant fungicide: cornmeal. Cornmeal is non-chemical while active ingredients in the chemicals cited in the article are chlorothalonil36 and triadimefon37; reports a degree of toxicity for both. In the article Cornmeal Myth Busted38 it is one’s opinion that, “It boils down to this: if you have a healthy soil, it will probably contain diverse populations of beneficial microbes, including those that control pathogenic fungi.”

Affecting both field grown and hydroponically grown horticultural crops, research39 explains, “…once established, these pathogens can persist and spread in the recirculated hydroponic solution.” The report continues, “The most important initial sources of inoculum include infected rooted cuttings and propagation media, as well as potential hydroponic pipes and tubing, tools and equipment, and water.” Shipment of cuttings (clones) may transmit propagation from one grower to another and airborne spread is likely. Insects can also spread pathogens.


Figure 11: Photo credit Wikipedia - fungus gnat
Figure 11: Photo credit Wikipedia - fungus gnat
Figure 12: Photo credit Wikipedia - aphid
Figure 12: Photo credit Wikipedia - aphid
Figure 13: Photo credit Wikipedia - jumping plant lice
Figure 13: Photo credit Wikipedia - jumping plant lice

The presence of gnats and insect larvae in substrate is a sign of insufficient drying and quality control. Coconut-derived substrate is harvested and rinsed, nutrients may be added then dried and packaged prior to storage and shipping. Insect contamination proliferates when moisture is trapped in the package. A tropical environment is ideal for pathogens and insect larvae to grow. Although added nutrients are intended for plants, the first to consume nutrients in substrate may be pathogens and insect larvae. 


Figure 14: Photo credit - coconut grove intercropping
Figure 14: Photo credit - coconut grove intercropping

Coco coir and coco peat originate from a tropical environment. The top five global producers of coco coir40 include Indonesia, Philippines, India, Brazil and Sri Lanka. Prior to selecting a coco coir or coco peat substrate brand, considerations should include the coconut palm grove location, surrounding environment if intercropping is present, water source as well as method of cultivating, harvesting, processing, and packaging.

Intercropping is shared growing space of other crops around coconut palms and is a major consideration for the presence of heavy metals and pathogens. Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used with intercropping are for killing insects, mold and pathogens on other plants and may or may not be organic. Contaminant transmission from non-organic fertilizers occurs via ground water and pathogens can proliferate via air and insects. If the water source is contaminated from intercropping, these contaminants will likely be absorbed into the coconut used in coir and pith production.


Inputs including herbicides and pesticides are used in agriculture. It is one opinion41 that organic agriculture does not feed the masses and glyphosate herbicide is necessary. Yet, at the time of this writing thirty-eight countries and twenty-five U.S. states42 have voted to reduce use and/or ban glyphosate.  World news reports, “Concerns about its safety emerged when a World Health Organization43 agency concluded in 2015 that it probably causes cancer.” A keyword search on “glyphosate exposure lawsuits” appears to back this claim.

A non-chemical herbicide substitute is neem oil.

Still, it is unclear to the consumer what type of chemical or non-chemical (organic) herbicide is used in and around coconut groves used in the production of substrate. 

Cannabis industry insiders alerted the public that glyphosate is now being used as a desiccant44, a drying agent, on cannabis. Doing so creates contaminated products that are not suitable for consumers.


To the consumer, it is unknown what grows in and around the coconut grove or if or how intercropping is addressed with fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides.

Research45 supports soil as the source of mercury contamination in plants. One environmental study46 indicates, “Analytical testing of a wide range of fertilizer products shows that some phosphate and micronutrient fertilizers, and liming materials contain elevated levels of arsenic, cadmium, and lead47 compared to other fertilizer types (e.g., nitrogen, potash, gypsum).” Lead48, arsenic and cadmium are present in glyphosate-based herbicides and other pesticides; all are linked to human health issues including cancers. 

Some growers use triple phosphate fertilizer. The article49 Cadmium Contamination in Plants states, “Fertilizer contains cadmium because phosphate rock is used as an essential feedstock of industrially produced fertilizer.” Cadmium poisoning in humans50 is documented to result in chronic disease. One arsenic51 report in Sri Lanka states “…almost all the agrochemicals available to the farmers in the study area are contaminated with arsenic. The highest amount was in triple super phosphate.” An everyday consumer product, rice52, contains arsenic53 from the soil that it is grown in and now has a consumer warning on preparation and consumption.

India is one of the top producing countries of coconut coir and coconut pith. A news report54 on arsenic contaminated groundwater in India links to cancer. A separate body of research on arsenic in Bangladesh groundwater55 determined, “Thus, we assumed that a high N (nitrogen) environment created by the fertilizer led the groundwater to reducing conditions through the enhancement of microbial activity, and the reducing condition promoted the arsenic release from peat sediment to the groundwater.”


Figure 15 Photo credit: buzzguide. Coconut husks soaked in “sea water”
Figure 15 Photo credit: buzzguide. Coconut husks soaked in “sea water”
Figure 16 Photo credit: Instagram Coconut husks soaking in river water.
Figure 16 Photo credit: Instagram Coconut husks soaking in river water.
Figure 17 Photo credit: consarc exports Superwash reservoir
Figure 17 Photo credit: consarc exports Superwash reservoir

Most coconut coir manufacturers promote rinsing or “retting” the substrate. The water source is often undetermined although some mention fresh water, river water56, standing water reservoir, tanker and rainwater57. One coconut coir cargo shipping website states coconut fiber used for textiles58 is retted for up to ten months while another organic coconut pith website cites the retting process takes more than six weeks.

During the curing process, coconut coir and coconut pith manufacturers typically rinse the product once or twice to reduce salinity. Referencing intercropping and contaminants transmitting into the water supply, the water source used to rinse coco coir and coco peat should be heavily considered when making a buying decision.


Figure 18 Sun dried coco coir. Source: Global Choice
Figure 18 Sun dried coco coir. Source: Global Choice
Figure 19 Coconut fiber dryer. Source: dinglibiofuel
Figure 19 Coconut fiber dryer. Source: dinglibiofuel
Figure 20 Coco coir pallets. Source: ebay
Figure 20 Coco coir pallets. Source: ebay

Drying coconut coir prior to packaging is done by sun drying or machine drying. Sun drying coconut coir may occur on earth or on concrete. Sun dried coconut fiber and coconut pith production environments are easily seen online in posted images. The coconut husk and pith are then packaged and stored in warehouses or shipping containers. This may occur during the monsoon season, according to an industry source.

Storing semi-dried material in a tropical environment is a suitable environment for mold, pathogens, and pests to proliferate. Cargo transportation59 warns of coco peat, “Swells when getting wet, endangering container structures.” Plant growing media with a moldy smell straight from the package is likely due to the manufacturing and/or the handling process prior to retail sales.


Figure 21 Photo credit Textile Learner - retting of coconut husks
Figure 21 Photo credit Textile Learner - retting of coconut husks
Figure 22: Photo credit YouTube – soaking coconut pith block with tap water
Figure 22: Photo credit YouTube – soaking coconut pith block with tap water

Online photographs show coconut palms growing in tropical salty climates. Although salt is absorbed into the husk, the coconut plant does not have a problem thriving in these conditions. Other plants do not thrive well with salinity, as salts restricts oxygen flow to the plant roots. Salinity in plants prevents nutrients from absorbing properly. The presence of mold or pathogens in plants also prevents oxygen flow to the roots. The combination of salt, heavy metals, mold and pathogens is likened to “a dirty wet diaper for plants”.

Once a retail coco coir or coco peat product is purchased by a grower, to remove salinity, it is standard practice to spend a considerable amount of time flushing it with water to remove salts prior to use. This process washes away excess salinity as well as nutrients added by the manufacturer. Less nutrients requires more inputs – a possible plant STD source.

Tap water contains chlorine and chloramine; both are used to kill pathogens and to disinfect drinking water. However, excess chlorine and chloramine60 results in burned leaves and reported death of plants, trees and grass. While rainwater is best, a pure water source is recommended to eliminate the introduction of plant STDs and support nutrient uptake by the plant’s roots.


An agriculture article on the coconut industry states that bacteria causes lethal yellowing disease in coconut trees61 and groves in the Caribbean are severely impacted. While fertilizer with heavy metals has been one of the main points of focus of agriculture contaminant research, substrate should also be analyzed for possible contaminant content and entry points. Top coconut producing countries are listed here.62

To provide the basis for addressing plant STDs in substrate, an independent third-party laboratory analysis of multiple popular coconut substrate brands was conducted. In addition to pathogens found in coconut-derived substrate, one of the most important take-aways from the coconut substrate laboratory analysis is salinity (ECe). One brand of coconut substrate ECe stood out at a mere 0.28 milliequivalents per liter; this is 69% less than the highest reported amount. An extremely low ECe value means that the plants grown in this substrate will receive more oxygen flow at the roots.



As cannabis is a microcosm of agriculture and transport of cannabis seedlings is a potential source of plant STD proliferation, the author of this article sought a supplier of contaminant-free inputs for cannabis growers.

The Happy Plant Guy64™ holds 25+ years’ experience in organic agriculture and is on record for producing an average of 20% more organic plant yield – for all clients’ organic plants. The recommendations are of specific brands of amendments and structured water to produce contaminant-free agriculture; all are listed on the Company’s website.

For coconut coir and coconut peat substrates, The Happy Plant Guy™ recommends a certified organic, contaminant-free, ready-to-use coconut coir and coconut peat substrate with vital nutrients added, and zero rinsing is required prior to planting. The water source used by this coconut substrate company is confirmed by the Company founder as mountain water located above the coconut grove. The ECe value reported by independent laboratory analysis is 0.28 milliequivalents per liter. This may be a relief to growers after reading the potential contamination points with agriculture inputs.


The answer to this author’s question was answered through this body of research. Mold developed from the coconut peat substrate pellets in the greenhouse tray. How it got there is no longer a mystery. Mold spores may have originated from the manufacturer’s water source, insufficient drying or by insects transmitting mold spores during the manufacturing process. Moisture may have also been trapped in the packaging while on the retail store shelf. The total economic loss was less than $30 USD. For an industrial agriculture grower, the economic loss would be equivalent to a grow facility, all equipment and all affected crops.

Only by being proactive and steadfast, is it possible to eliminate all plant STD contaminant sources from agriculture inputs: coco substrates, fertilizer, pesticide, herbicide and water.

Certificates of Analysis (COAs) are required for consumer transparency yet are not widely available with all agriculture inputs. COAs provide contaminant-free assurance for both agriculture growers and consumers. This process should be a consideration for the agriculture industry moving forward, to ensure purity standards.

Transparency with manufacturing is highly recommended when choosing an input brand and product. Input considerations for coconut substrate should include where it is grown, what grows around it, how it is grown, how it is processed, and how the product is handled prior to use.

Having visibility to all coconut coir and coconut peat manufacturer quality control processes backed by a COA is imperative for eliminating the possibility of plant STD transmission with substrates.

Hazardous materials and organic certifications are not clear to consumers. The COAs on pathogens in coconut coir and coconut peat substrates used in this report65 clearly indicates this. Two of the top five brands are laden with pathogenic mold. One brand’s website lists a Materials Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) stating, “this product contains no hazardous materials”. Pathogenic mold is hazardous material; keyword search “Fusarium Agent Green The Guardian” and you will see how sinister this can be. The other top brand of coconut substrate containing pathogenic mold is certified by a widely recognized industry “quality mark”. Consumers must be vigilant in their determination of what is a consumable product.

For agriculture and supporting a growing world population, shifting to organic, non-chemical inputs is a pathway to eliminating toxic chemicals in food and natural medicine. Indoor agriculture is a way to control weeds and pests.

Water purity is critical for agriculture purity. Both soil remediation and water purification are vital in geographic areas with a contaminated water supply. In industrial and home grows, water purification that mimics rainwater via structured, energized water is highly recommended for plant vitality.

Consumable plants have a direct correlation with immunity in people and their pets.

The pathogenic bacteria, Listeria, has forced an international recall between Canada and the U.S. on produce including organics sold in reputable retail stores. To quote the article that explains what Listeria is, “The manufacturer of the products, Growers Express, voluntarily recalled the products after concerns about a possible contamination of the potentially fatal bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.” One must ask themselves, “How did the listeria become present in so much of the world’s food supply?” 

In conclusion, “You are what you eat.”

Know the source


  1. cadmium
  2. lead
  3. arsenic
  4. mercury
  5. root rot
  6. adverse reactions
  7. allergies
  8. infection
  9. disease
  10. death
  11. devastating economic impact
  12. global food & agriculture technology and products
  13. new research
  14. news report
  15. $50 billion
  16. 73 million consumers
  17. current world population
  18. mold
  19. pesticides
  20. mold and yeast
  21. first-ever international cannabis trade agreement
  22. industry disruption
  23. U.S. national news
  24. greenhouse gasses
  25. Peat is being banned in the UK
  26. Ireland closed peat bogs
  27. others
  28. biofuel source
  29. more than half of U.S. states
  30. states
  31. Human Pythiosis
  32. Fusarium infections in immunocompromised patients
  33. recently detected and reported
  34. recent report
  35. Researchers at Texas A&M
  36. chlorothalonil
  37. triadimefon
  38. Cornmeal Myth Busted
  39. research
  40. top five global producers of coco coir
  41. one opinion
  42. thirty-eight countries and twenty-five U.S. states
  43. World Health Organization
  44. Glyphosate is now being used as a desiccant
  45. Research
  46. environmental study
  47. lead
  48. Lead
  49. article
  50. Cadmium poisoning in humans
  51. arsenic
  52. rice
  53. arsenic
  54. news report
  55. arsenic in Bangladesh groundwater
  56. river water
  57. rainwater
  58. textiles
  59. Cargo transportation
  60. Chloramine
  61. bacteria causes lethal yellowing disease in coconut trees
  62. top ranked coconut producing countries
  63. Coconut Coir & Pith COAs
  64. The Happy Plant Guy
  65. COAs on pathogens in coconut coir and coconut peat substrates used in this report
  66. Listeria
  67. Canada
  68. U.S.
  69. Article