Introduction and objective:
In Finland and other northern countries, vegetable greenhouse workers are exposed to airborne dust and microbes all year round. The aim of the study was to assess respiratory exposure to dust, endotoxins and microbes, and to identify the risk phases of respiratory and skin exposure to promote safe working methods.

Material and methods:
Work in greenhouses was observed and recorded in a structured form. 23 personal samples and eight stationary samples of dust, endotoxins and viable microbes were collected from eight tomato or cucumber greenhouses in Finland. Dust samples were analysed gravimetrically. Endotoxins were analysed on filters by chromogenic Limulus amoebocyte lysate assay. Microbes were collected on filters, incubated and counted in three different culture media. Eight additional stationary samples of microbes were collected on a six-phase impactor.

The greenhouses were generally clean and well organised, but skin protection was deficient. The median of personal dust exposure was 0.24 mg/m3: 0.21 mg/m3 in the tomatohouses and 0.62 mg/m3 in the cucumber greenhouses. The mean level of bacteria in the tomato houses was 2.7 × 103 and in the cucumber houses 1.6×104. Those of fungi were 3.6 × 105 and 1.7 × 105 on Hagem and 8.1 × 105 and 1.9 × 105 on DG-18, respectively. The microbes made up about 1/10 of these values in the stationary samples. Very low concentrations of endotoxins were found in 5/23 air samples.

The clean appearance of the greenhouses was reflected in the low to moderate levels of dust. Risk phases of high exposure, such as lifting leaf debris, were identified. The microbe species were typical of this climate, and their levels were comparable to other greenhouse studies, but lower than in farming. Prevention among the foreign workforce is challenging due to the lack of a common language.

The authors warmly thank the greenhouse companies and their employees for their participation in the study. Financial support was gratefully received from the Finnish Work Environment Fund.
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