Exposure to inhalable dust and endotoxins in agricultural industries

J Environ Monit. 2006 Jan;8(1):63-72. doi: 10.1039/b509838f. Epub 2005 Oct 7.


Endotoxin is a well-known bacterial toxin that causes several health effects. Animal faeces and plant materials contaminated with bacteria have been identified as important determinants of organic dust related endotoxin exposure. Although high exposure to organic dust and endotoxins has been described regularly in agricultural industries, a detailed overview of levels of airborne exposure to endotoxins in the agricultural industry, as well as a systematic comparison between several specific branches using the same exposure assessment protocols are lacking. In this study, personal endotoxin exposure in a broad spectrum of agricultural industries was investigated and possible determinants of exposure were explored. 601 personal inhalable dust samples were taken in 46 companies of three agricultural industrial sectors: grains, seeds and legumes sector (GSL), horticulture sector (HC) and animal production sector (AP), with 350 participating employees. Dust and endotoxin levels were determined gravimetrically and by using the Limulus Amoebocyte Lysate (LAL) assay, respectively. Basic descriptive analysis and elaborate analysis of variance were performed. Mean exposure levels were high, with large differences between sectors and between companies within the sectors. Highest dust and endotoxin exposures were found in companies of the GSL sector. In all three sectors exposure was higher in the primary production part compared to the (industrial) products processing part of the sector. The Dutch proposed health based occupational exposure limit (50 EU m(-3)) and temporary legal limit (200 EU m(-3)) for endotoxin were often exceeded. Differences in exposure between workers were larger than the day-to-day variability. Identified determinants increasing exposure levels were company, dustiness of the product and contact with animals/faeces. 'Wet' processes resulted in less dusty working environments and thus lowered endotoxin exposure. Overall, exposure to endotoxins over the whole range of agricultural industries is high. A 10-1,000 fold reduction in exposure is needed to reduce endotoxin related health risks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Endotoxins / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / analysis
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Dust
  • Endotoxins