Bioaerosols from the land application of biosolids in the desert southwest USA

J. P. Brooks, B. D. Tanner, K. L. Josephson, C. P. Gerba, I. L. Pepper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This study evaluated bioaerosol emissions during land application of Class B biosolids in and around Tucson, Arizona, to aid in developing models of the fate and transport of bioaerosols generated from the land application of biosolids. Samples were collected for 20 min at distances between 2 m and 20 m downwind of point sources, using an SKC BioSampler® impinger. A total of six samples were collected per sampling event, which consisted of a biosolid spray applicator applying liquid biosolids to a cotton field. Each application represented one exposure. Samples were collected in deionised water amended with peptone and antifoam agent. Ambient weather conditions were also monitored every 10 min following initiation of sampling. Concurrently with downwind samples, background (ambient) air samples were collected to compensate for any ambient airborne microorganisms. In addition, biosolids samples were collected for analysis of target indicator and pathogenic organisms. Soil samples were also collected and analysed. Significant numbers of heterotrophic plate count (HPC) bacteria were found in air samples collected during the biosolid application process. These could have arisen from soil particles being aerosolised during the land application process. Aerosolised soil may contribute significantly to the amount of aerosolised microorganisms. Soil particles may be able to more readily aerosolise, due to their low density, small particle size and low mass. Aerosolised HPC bacteria found during biosolids land application were similar to those found during normal tractor operation on non-biosolids applied fields. Coliforms and coliphages were not routinely detected even though they were found to be present in the biosolids at relatively high concentrations, 106 and 104/g (dry weight) of biosolids respectively. This could be due to the die-off rate of aerosolised Gram-negative bacteria or sorption to the solid portion of the biosolids. Low numbers of aerosolised coliphages may likewise be due to sorption phenomena. We theorise that only organisms in the aqueous phase of the biosolids were available to desorb and be aerosolised. Animal viruses, which were not detected in the biosolids, were likewise not detected in the aerosol samples. Clostridium perfringens was detected in only a small percent of aerosol samples although it was detected during all weather conditions; other microorganisms were detected during more favourable environmental conditions (relative humidity >10%). Despite the fact that many of these organisms were present in the biosolids at significant concentrations, their presence in bioaerosols generated during the land application of biosolids was limited to only a small percentage of samples. Bacteria as well as viruses may sorb to biosolids, which contain a high percentage of organic matter, and desorption during land application of biosolids may not readily take place; therefore, these microorganisms may not be readily aerosolised.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7-12
Number of pages6
JournalWater Science and Technology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2004


  • Aerosolisation
  • Bioaerosol
  • Biosolids
  • Pathogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology


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