The measurement and health impact of endotoxin contamination in organic dusts from multiple sources: focus on the cotton industry

Inhal Toxicol. 2004 Apr;16(4):217-29. doi: 10.1080/08958370490277164.


Endotoxin is derived from Gram-negative bacterial membranes, and its inflammatory effects following inhalation are well characterized. The significance of this fact becomes apparent when the wide-ranging environments containing high levels of this microbial product are considered. Endotoxin is present in numerous industrial environments, especially where organic fibers are processed. Microbial contamination of these fibers mainly occurs at the agricultural stage. Materials such as flax and hemp are affected in this way, but the most important product in this context is cotton, from which chronic dust inhalation causes the disease byssinosis. Despite the fact that endotoxin constitutes a significant threat to public health, there are currently no occupational exposure limits for this toxicant. This communication describes the toxicology of endotoxin, and its role in inhalation-induced disease, focusing on measurement of airborne endotoxin in the occupational and domestic environments using the Limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL) enzyme assay. Following the success of the LAL assay for measuring endotoxin in dusts, our laboratory has examined its application to aqueous washes from cotton fibers. Reproducibility of the results was high, and data are presented displaying levels of endotoxin contamination in fibers from different cotton producing countries. Hence, worldwide comparison of industrial endotoxin concentrations can be readily made using this test. It would be highly desirable if the performance of the LAL assay facilitated introduction of industrial endotoxin safety limits, and in spite of minor surmountable shortcomings, the test is accurate, reliable, and well field-tested, so its continued widespread use may achieve this goal.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / toxicity*
  • Byssinosis / etiology
  • Cotton Fiber*
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Endotoxins / toxicity*
  • Occupational Exposure*


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Dust
  • Endotoxins