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Health complaints and immunological markers of exposure to bioaerosols among biowaste collectors and compost workers


OBJECTIVES In a cross sectional study, work related health complaints and diseases of 58 compost workers and 53 biowaste collectors were investigated and compared with 40 control subjects. Levels of specific IgG antibodies to moulds and bacteria were measured as immunological markers of exposure to bioaerosols.

METHODS With a standardised protocol, the participants of the study were interviewed for work related symptoms, conditions of exposure to bioaerosols at their workplaces, exposure to bioaerosols from other sources, atopic diseases, and smoking habits. They were clinically examined by physicians specialised in occupational medicine. Also, concentrations of specific IgG antibodies against antigens of moulds and actinomycetes occurring regularly at these workplaces were measured and compared with the health complaints of the workers.

RESULTS Compost workers had significantly more symptoms and diseases of the airways (p=0.003) and the skin (p=0.02) than the control subjects. Health complaints of biowaste collectors did not differ significantly from those of the control group. Subjects with atopic diseases were underrepresented in the compost workers (p=0.003). Significantly increased antibody concentrations against fungi and actinomycetes were measured in workers at composting plants. The concentrations in biowaste collectors did not differ significantly from those in the control subjects. A significant association between the diseases and increased antibody concentrations were found in the compost workers.

CONCLUSION The high exposure to bioaerosols of compost workers is significantly associated with a higher frequency of health complaints and diseases as well as higher concentrations of specific antibodies against moulds and actinomycetes. A healthy worker effect is indicated by the underrepresentation of atopic diseases among the compost workers compared with biowaste collectors and the control group.

  • exposure to bioaerosols
  • organic dust
  • IgG antibodies
  • moulds
  • actinomycetes

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