Keywords biological hazards, sensitization, inflammation, endotoxine, prevention
Bioaerosols (also termed organic dust) are a subcategory of particles released from terrestrial and marine ecosystems into the atmosphere. They consist of both living and non-living components including organisms, such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, and pollen, which can occur in inhalable sizes from 10 nm for virus particles to 100 μm for pollen grains. Bioaerosols can transmit microbial pathogens, endotoxins, and allergens and can excrete components inducing a response, primarily inflammatory, in the respiratory tract. Bioaerosols thus pose a health risk in the form of infections and toxic and allergic reactions. Studies suggest inflammatory adverse health effects following exposure to bioaerosols, in particular at workplaces. However, health-related protection measures based on experimental or epidemiological studies from the working environment are still lacking.
Workplace bioaerosol concentrations are greatest in agriculture, farming, waste handling and similar facilities. However, biological agents occur at almost every workplace, including schools and daycare centers. Specific risks of infections exist at hospitals and other healthcare centers.
The IPA conducted several studies at waste handling facilities and discovered elevated risks for inflammatory toxic disorders and allergies at composting and recycling facilities. Waste collectors also exhibited an increased risk of inflammatory reactions such as chronic bronchitis. In addition to assessment of workplace- related allergen exposure, aspects of exposure to components of bioaerosols are also being examined, including in studies involving veterinary assistants and biolaboratory technicians, and in particular in cohorts such as students undergoing veterinary training.
The results of these studies are being used by regulatory committees to implement new or optimized protective measures in an occupational safety and health context. In addition, the IPA develops and validates techniques to detect and quantify components of bioaerosols using the whole blood assay, by stimulation of peripheral blood cells of the innate immune system and quantification of released mediators by means of specific immunoassays. The validation and standardization of methods to quantify specific antibodies against workplace and environment-related moulds and bacteria are also part of this project.