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Environ Res. 2009 Feb;109(2):135-42. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2008.11.001. Epub 2009 Jan 7.

Assessment of airborne microorganism contamination in an industrial area characterized by an open composting facility and a wastewater treatment plant.

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Department of Experimental and Applied Pharmacology, Laboratory of Microbiology, University of Pavia, Pavia, Italy.


In order to assess the potential exposure hazard to workers and people living in the immediate surroundings of an area characterized by an open composting facility and a wastewater treatment plant, a quantitative and a qualitative analysis of airborne microorganisms were carried out. Air sampling was performed once a week for four consecutive weeks in summer and winter. Six sites were selected as air sampling sites: one was upwind at approximately 40 m from the facilities; the other five were downwind at increasing distances from the facilities, with the furthest at 100 m away. Monitoring permitted us to verify the influence that the composting activities and wastewater treatment had on the bacterial and fungal contamination of the air. The results obtained have been expressed by means of contamination indexes that have already been used in previous works: a major microbiological contamination near the plants was evidenced. Near the facilities, mesophilic bacteria, psychrophilic bacteria and microfungi showed the highest median concentrations, respectively, of 307.5, 327.5 and 257.5 CFU/m(3). Moreover, the season generally influenced the concentration of the bacteria as well as of the fungi; higher in summer than in winter. The contamination index global index of microbial contamination (GIMC/m(3)) showed mean values of 4058.9 in summer and 439.7 in winter and the contamination index-amplification index (AI) showed values of 4.5 and 1.1 in the same seasons, respectively. Controlling the seasonal effect, mesophilic bacteria, Pseudomonas spp. and Enterobacteriaceae showed a significant decline in concentration with respect to upwind air samples and with increasing distance. Both GIMC and AI showed a significant decline with respect to upwind air samples by increasing the distance from facilities after adjusting for the seasonal effect. In conclusion, even if these plants do not represent a potential risk for nearby populations, they may pose a potential health risk for workers.

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