Occupational Health Threats

Although more research needs to be conducted on optimal conditions for the health and safety of industrial composting workers, studies thus far have shown that workers are typically exposed to high levels of bioaerosols, which have been associated with negative respiratory health impacts.

  • One study found that workers in the composting industry are exposed to very high levels of microorganisms. This was associated with organic dust toxic syndrome (acute and short-lived flu-like symptoms with fever and airway symptoms), as well as respiratory diseases like allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis, and extrinsic allergic alveolititis.
  • In a 5 year study on the health of workers at composting facilities in Germany, researchers found associations between being exposed to organic dust and bioaerosols and having adverse acute and chronic respiratory problems. Such problems included mucosal membrane irritation, chronic bronchitis, and an accelerated decline of forced vital capacity–the maximum amount of air a person can exhale after a deep breath. Other health issues reported were conjunctivitis, cough, asthma, and allergic alveolitis (also called "hypersensitivity pneumonitis," which is an inflammation of the lungs due to exposure to organic dusts; symptoms include headaches, fatigue, and cough).
  • Researchers suggest that those working close to emitting composting piles should wear respiratory protection up to 40m from the source.
  • In another study in Germany of composting facility workers who had filed health complaints, researchers found a significant association between exposure to bioaerosols and an increased rate of health complaints and diseases, as well as elevated concentrations of antibodies to fungi and molds common to compost.
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