A task-based analysis of black carbon exposure in Iowa farmers during harvest

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2018 Apr;15(4):293-304. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2017.1422870.


Diesel exhaust has been associated with adverse human health effects. Farmers are often exposed to diesel exhaust; however, their diesel exposure has not been well characterized. In this descriptive study, we measured black carbon concentrations as a proxy for diesel exhaust exposure in 16 farmers over 20 sampling days during harvest in southeast Iowa. Farmers wore a personal aethalometer which measured real-time black carbon levels throughout the working day, and their activities were recorded by a field researcher. Black carbon concentrations were characterized for each farmer, and by activity, vehicle fuel type, and microenvironment. Overall, 574 discrete tasks were monitored with a median task duration of 5.5 min. Of these tasks, 39% involved the presence of a diesel vehicle. Farmers' daily black carbon geometric mean exposures ranged from 0.1-2.3 µg/m3, with a median daily geometric mean of 0.3 µg/m3. The highest black carbon concentrations were measured on farmers who used or worked near diesel vehicles (geometric mean ranged from 0.5 µg/m3 while harvesting to 4.9 µg/m3 during animal work). Higher geometric means were found for near vs. far proximity to diesel-fueled vehicles and equipment (2.9 vs. 0.3 µg/m3). Indoor, bystander proximity to diesel-operated vehicles resulted in the highest geometric mean black carbon concentrations (18 µg/m3). Use of vehicles with open cabs had higher mean black carbon concentrations than closed cabs (2.1-3.2 vs. 0.4-0.9 µg/m3). In summary, our study provided evidence that farmers were frequently exposed to black carbon associated with diesel-related activities at levels above urban ambient concentrations in their daily work during harvest.

Keywords: Aethalometer; black carbon; diesel exhaust; exposure; farmers; harvest.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / analysis
  • Carbon / analysis*
  • Farmers*
  • Humans
  • Iowa
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Vehicle Emissions*


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Vehicle Emissions
  • Carbon