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An analysis of employee exposure to organic dust at large-scale composting facilities

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journal contribution
posted on 2022-05-27, 14:03 authored by Peter Sykes, J A Allen, J D Wildsmith, Ken Jones

The occupational health implications from exposure to dust, endotoxin and 1-3 β Glucan at commercial composting sites are uncertain. This study aims to establish employee exposure levels to inhalable and respirable dust, endotoxin and 1-3 β Glucan during various operational practices in the composting process. Personal samples were collected and the inhalable and respirable dust fractions were determined by gravimetric analysis. Endotoxin concentrations were determined using a Limulus Amebocyte Lysate assay (LAL). 1-3 β Glucan levels were estimated using a specific blocking agent to establish the contribution that these compounds gave to the original endotoxin assay. Employees' exposure to dust was found to be generally lower than the levels stipulated in the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002 (as amended), (median inhalable fraction 1.08 mg/m3, min 0.25 mg/m3 max 10.80 mg/m3, median respirable fraction 0.05 mg/m3, min 0.02 mg/m3, max 1.49 mg/m3). Determination of the biological component of the dust showed that employees' exposures to endotoxin were elevated (median 31.5 EU/m3, min 2.00 EU/m3, max 1741.78 EU/m3), particularly when waste was agitated (median 175.0 EU/m3, min 2.03 EU/m3, max 1741.78 EU/m3). Eight out of 32 (25%) of the personal exposure data for endotoxin exceeded the 200 EU/m3 temporary legal limit adopted in the Netherlands and thirteen out of 32 (40.6%) exceeded the suggested 50 EU/m3 guidance level suggested to protect workers from respiratory health effects. A significant correlation was observed between employee inhalable dust exposure and personal endotoxin concentration (r = 0.728, p<0.05) and also personal endotoxin exposure and 1-3 β Glucan concentration (r = 0.817, p<0.05). Further work is needed to explore the possibility of using inhalable dust concentration as a predictor for personal endotoxin exposure. The general dust levels stipulated in the COSHH Regulations 2002 (as amended) are inadequate for managing the potential health risks associated with endotoxin exposure at composting sites. Employee exposure levels and dose-response disease mechanisms are not well understood at this present time. Consequently, in light of this uncertainty, it is recommended that a precautionary approach be adopted in managing the potential health risks associated with inhalation of organic dusts at composting sites. 


Published in

Journal of Physics: Conference Series




  • VoR (Version of Record)


Sykes, P., Allen, J.A., Wildsmith, J.D. and Jones, K.P. (2009) 'An analysis of employee exposure to organic dust at large-scale composting facilities', Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 151,(1), p. 012064.

Electronic ISSN


Cardiff Met Affiliation

  • Cardiff School of Sport and Health Sciences

Cardiff Met Authors

Peter Sykes

Cardiff Met Research Centre/Group

  • Occupational and Environmental Public Health

Copyright Holder

  • © The Authors


  • en

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