Occupational health risks to employees of waste treatment facilities
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Institute of Hygiene, University of Graz, Graz, Austria
Ann Agric Environ Med. 1997;4(1):143–147
In recent years, efforts have been made to reduce the volume of residual waste through sorting, recycling and composting. As in many other western countries, facilities designed to recycle materials collected from waste were established in Austria. Employees of such facilities are exposed to increased levels of bioaerosols. A total of 137 employees from 5 different facilities (2 composting facilities and 3 waste sorting plants) underwent medical examination. In addition to spirometry, allergy parameters (total IgE concentration, mold-allergen specific IgE concentration) and parameters of inflammation (C-reactive protein, blood count) were determined. A questionnaire recorded subjective observations and the immunization of the employees. No statistically significant increase of allergic diseases was found. Although IgE levels of employees in sorting facilities were increased, no causality between IgE concentrations and the length of employment in the facility could be established. The incidence of mold allergenspecific IgE was also not significantly higher among employees in waste treatment plants than among members of a control group. Spirometry showed no differences in the lung function, both within the facilities and in comparison with the control group. Obstructive changes of the respiratory organs which can be observed in allergic diseases were not even found among employees who had worked in sorting facilities for several years. Among the workers occurred subjective complaints such as hoarseness (38%), cough (35%), infections of the respiratory organs (23%), diarrhea (18%), disorders in joints and muscles (13%) and conjunctivitis (12%). Immunization of workers was shocking: Only 57% were properly vaccinated against polio, 42% against tetanus and 68% against HAV. The proportion of employees with increased blood sugar levels was conspicuously high. Although this cannot be interpreted as work-related, it should be taken into account when conducting initial medical examinations. In addition to regular medical check-ups, occupational medicine should place special emphasis on the initial medical examination. Routine examinations should determine immunizations, lung function, routine vaccinations, and biochemical parameters in order to prevent disorders in the metabolism (diabetes).