This paper presents summary statistics of airborne culturable bacteria from the US Environmental Protection Agency Building Assessment Survey and Evaluation (BASE) study. Air samples were collected with single-stage, multiple-hole, agar impactors in 100 large office buildings in 1994-1998 to obtain normative data on indoor environmental quality. Bacterial concentrations were compared by incubation temperature, location, season, and climate zone. Forty-one percent of the samples were below the 2- or 5-min detection limits (18 or 7 CFU/m3, respectively) but less than 1% were overgrown. Mesophilic bacteria (30 degrees C) accounted for >95% of culturable bacteria, both indoors and outdoors. Average concentrations were higher outdoors, except for Gram-positive cocci, which were the only group that were significantly higher indoors (39 vs. 24 CFU/m3), and Gram-negative cocci, for which both concentrations were low and the difference were not significant. Outdoor concentrations of culturable bacteria were somewhat higher in winter (194 vs.165 CFU/m3), and the two dominant outdoor groups were unknown bacteria and Gram-positive rods. Conversely, indoor concentrations were significantly higher in summer (116 vs. 87 CFU/m3), consisting primarily of unknown bacteria and Gram-positive cocci. Bacterial concentrations were within the ranges reported in previous studies of non-problem buildings, and the extreme aggregated indoor concentrations (e.g. the 90th percentile, 175 CFU/m3) of these 100 representative buildings may serve as upper bounds to develop interpretation guidelines for office environments and similar non-manufacturing workplaces in various climate zones.
Practical implications: The Building Assessment Survey and Evaluation (BASE) study was one of the most comprehensive investigations of indoor environmental quality in which a standardized protocol was used to measure bioaerosols in 100 typical US office buildings. The information on the indoor and outdoor concentrations of airborne bacteria in different climate zones during the heating and cooling seasons has expanded the baseline data available for interpretation of measurements from building investigations. With suggested refinements, the BASE protocol may serve as a guide for future studies of bioaerosol concentrations, building characteristics, and occupant perceptions of the indoor environment.