Estimated occupational risk from bioaerosols generated during land application of class B biosolids

Benjamin D. Tanner, John P. Brooks, Charles P. Gerba, Charles N. Haas, Karen L. Josephson, Ian L. Pepper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Some speculate that bioaerosols from land application of biosolids pose occupational risks, but few studies have assessed aerosolization of microorganisms from biosolids or estimated occupational risks of infection. This study investigated levels of microorganisms in air immediately downwind of land application operations and estimated occupational risks from aerosolized microorganisms. In all, more than 300 air samples were collected downwind of biosolids application sites at various locations within the United States. Coliform bacteria, coliphages, and heterotrophic plate count (HPC) bacteria were enumerated from air and biosolids at each site. Concentrations of coliforms relative to Salmonella and concentrations of coliphage relative to enteroviruses in biosolids were used, in conjunction with levels of coliforms and coliphages measured in air during this study, to estimate exposure to Salmonella and enteroviruses in air. The HPC bacteria were ubiquitous in air near land application sites whether or not biosolids were being applied, and concentrations were positively correlated to windspeed. Coliform bacteria were detected only when biosolids were being applied to land or loaded into land applicators. Coliphages were detected in few air samples, and only when biosolids were being loaded into land applicators. In general, environmental parameters had little impact on concentrations of microorganisms in air immediately downwind of land application. The method of land application was most correlated to aerosolization. From this large body of data, the occupational risk of infection from bioaerosols was estimated to be 0.78 to 2.1%/yr. Extraordinary exposure scenarios carried an estimated annual risk of infection of up to 34%, with viruses posing the greatest threat. Risks from aerosolized microorganisms at biosolids land application sites appear to be lower than those at wastewater treatment plants, based on previously reported literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2311-2321
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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