Assessment of workers' exposure to bioaerosols in a French cheese factory
Simon, X.; Duquenne, P.
Annals of Occupational Hygiene 58(6): 677-692
ISSN/ISBN: 1475-3162 PMID: 24812257 DOI: 10.1093/annhyg/meu027
Hundreds of different cheeses are produced in France, where 23.9kg of cheese were consumed per inhabitant in 2009, when it was ranked the second cheese-consuming nation. To meet this considerable demand, a large number of cheese factories exist where many workers, especially cheese washers, may be exposed to fungal bioaerosols that can lead to adverse toxinic and allergic effects. Airborne bacteria, fragments, or microbial by-products (endotoxins) are also found and contribute to total worker exposure. However, there is almost no published data concerning worker exposure or characteristics of bioaerosols emitted during these activities. Here, we measured the parameters (concentrations, species present, and size distribution) of the culturable fungal bioaerosol emitted in a French natural-rind cheese-maturing cellar. Concentrations of airborne bacteria and endotoxins were also measured. The main tasks were investigated using stationary or personal sampling over three consecutive days. Depending on the work area, high concentrations of culturable mesophilic microorganisms were measured (using closed-face cassettes): from 10(4) to 2×10(8) CFU m(-3) for fungi and from 10(3) to 10(6) CFU m(-3) for bacteria. These concentrations are 10- to 100000-fold higher than those measured at two reference points (indoor and outdoor) that are assumed not to be contaminated by the plant's activities. Endotoxin concentrations were between 10 and 300 EU m(-3) in the plant. Exposure was further assessed by identifying the predominant culturable fungi (allergenic Mucor fuscus and Penicillium sp.) and by measuring particle size distributions (cascade impactor). Airborne fungal entities (spores, mycelium strands and fragments, agglomerates, etc.) were found with aerodynamic diameters from 3 to over 20 µm. A metrological approach was used to fully characterize the culturable fungal aerosols generated during cheese maturing in this plant. The results show that workers are exposed to concentrations of airborne culturable fungi, sometimes very high, throughout the manufacturing process. In addition to fungi, culturable bacteria and endotoxins are also present in the work atmosphere. All these microbial organisms thus contribute in a complex manner to total worker exposure. Despite the lack of both occupational exposure limit values and standardized measuring methods, our results suggest that an immunological risk may occur among workers, especially for cheese brushers, cheese washers, and packagers who are the most exposed workers in the factory.