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The Annals of Occupational Hygiene
Year: 2014  |  Volume: 58  |  Issue: 6  |  Page No.: 664 - 676

Exposure and Preventive Measure to Reduce High and Daily Exposure to Bacillus thuringiensis in Potted Plant Production

Anne Mette Madsen, Athanasios Zervas, Kira Tendal, Christoffer B. Matthiesen, Ismo Kalevi Koponen and Erik Wind Hansen    

Abstract: The bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is the active organism in a variety of commercially available products used worldwide as biopesticides. Bt products are applied in large outdoor areas as well as in indoor environments. Even though it has been sold for decades, not much is known about the occupational exposure to Bt. The aim of this study was to obtain knowledge about the exposure to Bt subspecies israelensis (Bti) in a propagation section in a greenhouse, where Bti is applied hourly by a spray boom, and to test a preventive measure to reduce the exposure to airborne Bti. Furthermore, we wanted to study the exposure during work with potted plants treated earlier with Bti. Exposure to aerosols with Bti was measured repeatedly by personal and stationary samplers before and after the intervention. Bti was identified by polymerase chain reaction in air and soil samples. Personal exposure to inhalable Bti in the propagation section was 3×105 cfu m-3 (median level, n = 22); the personal exposure of people working with plants treated earlier with Bti was 3200 cfu m-3 (median level, n = 17). The highest single measure was found for the person working with the spray boom (7×105 cfu m-3) but airborne Bti was present at all sampling stations in the propagation section. Bti constituted a high share of the airborne cultivable bacteria and a smaller share of the soilborne bacteria in the propagation section. In a human cell assay, spiking an aerosol sample with a product with Bti increased the inflammatory potential of an aerosol sample from the greenhouse significantly. Based on the inflammatory potential and the high personal exposure, a cover around the spray boom was built as an attempt to reduce the daily exposure to Bti. The cover reduced the personal exposure to Bti from 3.0×105 cfu m-3 to 1.8×104 cfu m-3. The exposure was thus reduced by a factor 17, which is a considerable reduction. Bti was present in different particle size fractions with the majority, both before and after the intervention, in the fraction of airborne particles with an aerodynamic diameter between 1.2 and 3.0 μm. The measured occupational exposure to Bti is discussed in relation to risk evaluation.

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