Workers' exposure to airborne bacteria and endotoxins at industrial wastewater treatment plants

Am Ind Hyg Assoc J. 1994 Nov;55(11):1055-60. doi: 10.1080/15428119491018330.


A study of sewage workers' exposure to airborne culturable bacteria and inhaled endotoxins was performed at nine waste-water treatment plants that treat mainly industrial effluents. Airborne endotoxins were collected on glass fiber filters and analyzed using a chromogenic limulus assay. Endotoxin concentrations measured in the immediate vicinity of the waste-water treatment process varied from 0.1 to 350 ng/m3. The eight-hour time weighted average concentrations of endotoxin to which workers were exposed exceeded the suggested exposure limit (30 ng/m3 endotoxin) at four of the plants. Air samples of culturable bacteria concentrations varied between 10 and 10(5) colony-forming units/m3. Of the particles carrying culturable bacteria, 88% had an aerodynamic diameter of less than 4.7 microns. The most common genera of airborne gram-negative bacteria were acinetobacter, citrobacter, enterobacter, klebsiella, and pseudomonas. High levels of exposure to bacteria and bacterial endotoxin usually were related to certain phases of the treatment process. The microbiological contamination of air was highest near the inlets where incoming wastewater entered the basins, in the sludge treatment area, and inside the biofilter tower. In these spaces it is necessary to control and reduce exposure to airborne bacteria and endotoxin at wastewater plants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Microbiology*
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational*
  • Bacteria*
  • Endotoxins*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria
  • Humans
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid*


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Endotoxins