Background: Sawmill workers have an increased risk of developing occupational asthma and other respiratory symptoms. Wood dust and microorganisms have both been suggested to play a role, but few studies have measured microbial exposure levels in sawmills.
Methods: The preliminary study reported in this paper assessed airborne dust, bacterial endotoxin and beta(1,3)-glucan levels in 37 samples from two New Zealand sawmills.
Results: Nearly one-third of the measured dust levels exceeded 1 mg/m(3) and only one sample exceeded the legal limit of 5 mg/m(3). Endotoxin levels were clearly elevated with 50% of all measured exposures above 50 EU/m(3) (range: 7-588 EU/m(3)). beta(1,3)-glucan levels were comparable with levels measured in other industries where workers are exposed to organic dust. Workers in the planing department had the highest mean exposures to dust, endotoxin and beta(1,3)-glucan. Dust levels were only weakly correlated with endotoxin and beta(1,3)-glucan levels.
Conclusions: Endotoxin exposures in sawmill workers are at levels sufficient to potentially contribute to the development of respiratory symptoms. Moreover, measurement of dust exposure is a poor proxy for beta(1,3)-glucan and endotoxin exposure in sawmill workers.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.