Exposure to airborne microorganisms and endotoxin in herb processing plants.
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Department of Occupational Biohazards, Institute of Agricultural Medicine, Lublin, Poland
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Jacek Dutkiewicz   

Department of Occupational Biohazards, Institute of Agricultural Medicine, Jaczewskiego 2, 20-090 Lublin, Poland
Ann Agric Environ Med. 2001;8(2):201-211
Microbiological air sampling was performed in two herb processing plants located in eastern Poland. Air samples for determination of the levels of bacteria, fungi, dust and endotoxin were collected at 14 sites during cleaning, cutting, grinding, sieving, sorting and packing of 11 kinds of herbs (nettle, caraway, birch, celandine, marjoram, mint, peppermint, sage, St. John's wort, calamus, yarrow), used for production of medications, cosmetics and spices. It was found that processing of herbs was associated with a very high pollution of the air with bacteria, fungi, dust and endotoxin. The numbers of microorganisms (bacteria and fungi) in the air of herb processing plants ranged within 40.6-627.4 x 103 cfu/m3 (mean +/- S.D = 231.4 +/- 181.0 x 103 cfu/m3). The greatest concentrations were noted at the initial stages of production cycle, during cleaning, cutting and grinding of herbs. The numbers of airborne microorganisms were also significantly (p<0.0001) related to the kind of processed herb, being the greatest at processing marjoram, nettle, yarrow and mint. The values of the respirable fraction of airborne microflora in the examined facilities varied within a fairly wide range and were between 14.7-67.7%. The dominant microorganisms in the air of herb processing plants were mesophilic bacteria, among which endospore-forming bacilli (Bacillus spp.) and actinomycetes of the species Streptomyces albus were most numerous. Among Gram-negative bacteria, the most common was endotoxin-producing species Alcaligenes faecalis. Altogether, 37 species or genera of bacteria and 23 species or genera of fungi were identified in the air of herb processing plants, of these, 11 and 10 species or genera respectively were reported as having allergenic and/or immunotoxic properties. The concentrations of dust and bacterial endotoxin in the air of herb processing plants were large with extremely high levels at some sampling sites. The concentrations of airborne dust ranged within 3.2-946.0 mg/m3 (median 18.1 mg/m3), exceeding at 13 out of 14 sampling sites the Polish OEL value of 4 mg/m3. The concentrations of airborne endotoxin ranged within 0.2-2681.0 microg/m3 (median 16.0 microg/m3), exceeding at all sampling sites the suggested OEL value of 0.1 microg/m3. In conclusion, the workers of herb processing plants could be exposed to large concentrations of airborne microorganisms, dust and endotoxin posing a risk of work-related respiratory disease.
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