Airborne algae and cyanobacteria: occurrence and related health effects

Front Biosci (Elite Ed). 2011 Jan 1;3:772-87. doi: 10.2741/e285.


Published information on airborne algae and cyanobacteria worldwide and the related human health effects is scarce. Since 1844, a total of 353 morphological taxa (genera or species) have been identified in aerobiological studies. However, due to diverse methodologies and different microorganisms targeted in these studies, direct comparisons on the occurrences of airborne algae and cyanobacteria in various studies are rather dubious. Thirty-eight airborne algae and cyanobacteria were shown to induce allergy, skin irritation, hay fever, rhinitis, sclerosis and respiratory problems when aerosolized and inhaled. Another 14 airborne taxa are known toxin producers posing threat to human health. Most frequently associated with health effects are the genera Chlorella, Scenedesmus, Chlorococcum, Klebsormidium (Hormidium) and Lyngbya. In the air of the Mediterranean city of Thessaloniki, we found 63 algal and cyanobacterial taxa, with 21 reported for the first time in the air. Seven taxa were potentially harmful. Algae and cyanobacteria can contribute significantly in the total air particle load, rendering them as causative agents for health issues when inhaled.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Microbiology*
  • Biodiversity*
  • Chlorophyta / toxicity*
  • Cities
  • Cyanobacteria / pathogenicity*
  • Environmental Monitoring / statistics & numerical data*
  • Greece
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Species Specificity