Personal exposure to airborne dust and microorganisms in agricultural environments

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2006 Mar;3(3):118-30. doi: 10.1080/15459620500524607.


Airborne dust and microorganisms are associated with respiratory diseases and increased mortality and morbidity. Farmers are at high risk of exposure to both of these hazards. Very limited information, however, is available on the combined exposures to both hazards on different types of farms. Moreover, most of the previous studies have measured the mass concentration of particles ignoring the particle size. In this study, farmers' exposure to airborne dust and microorganisms was studied using our newly developed personal sampling system. Particle number concentration and size distribution were measured with an optical particle counter. Simultaneously, particles were collected on a filter and analyzed for microorganisms. The field measurements were conducted in animal confinements (swine, poultry, and dairy) and during grain harvesting (corn and soybean). The results show the following average concentrations on the workers' breathing zone: 1.7 x 10(6) to 2.9 x 10(7) particles/m(3) for total dust, 0.9 x 10(3) to 3.9 x 10(4) spores/m(3) for total fungal spores, 0.3 x 10(3) to 3.6 x 10(4)CFU/m(3) for culturable fungal spores, 0.3 x 10(4) to 3.3 x 10(8) CFU/m(3) for culturable bacteria, and limit of detection (LOD) to 2.8 x 10(3) CFU/m(3) for culturable actinomycetes in animal confinements. The respective concentrations were 4.4 x 10(6) to 5.8 x 10(7) particles/m(3), 3.4 x 10(4) to 6.1 x 10(6) spores/m(3), 8.2 x 10(4) to 7.4 x 10(6) CFU/m(3), 0.4 x 10(5) to 1.4 x 10(6) CFU/m(3), and LOD to 2.6 x 10(4) CFU/m(3) during grain harvesting. The highest contribution of large particles (3-10 microm) in total particles was found during grain harvesting, whereas the size distribution was dominated by smaller particles (< 3 microm) in animal confinements. High fraction (up to 37%) of particles between 2-10 microm was found to be fungal spores. The results indicate that an increase in the concentration of large dust particles (2-10 microm) during grain harvesting was partially attributed to the increase in the concentration of the fungal spores. Overall, the combined exposure to airborne dust and microorganisms was found to be more severe during harvesting than in animal confinements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aerosols / analysis
  • Agriculture*
  • Air Microbiology*
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Animals
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Cattle
  • Colony Count, Microbial
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Fungi / isolation & purification
  • Housing, Animal
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis
  • Poultry
  • Soybeans
  • Spores, Fungal / isolation & purification
  • Swine
  • Zea mays


  • Aerosols
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Dust