Factors determining the exposure of dairy farmers to thoracic organic dust

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Bronchial respiratory diseases are more common in dairy farmers than in the general population, perhaps because the repeated inhalation of organic dust contributes to the development of these disorders. However, the factors determining the exposure of farmers to particles that can enter the lower bronchial tract and interact with it, i.e. the thoracic fraction of the inhalable dust, remain to be identified.We therefore measured the exposure of dairy farmers to thoracic organic dust and identified the farm features and tasks that increased exposure. We measured thoracic particles (n = 110) and farm characteristics and occupational tasks in 29 Brittany dairy farms. The mean (GM) (geometric standard deviation, GSD) concentration of thoracic dust in air inhaled by farmers was 0.24 mg/m3 (2.8) and the concentrations of endotoxins, Gram-positive bacteria and fungi in the thoracic fraction were 128 EU/m3 (4.0), 960 CFU/m3 (6.3) and 690 CFU/m3 (5.4), respectively. Model-based estimates of the association between exposure, farm features and tasks indicated that manual grain and feed handling and mechanical bedding spreading significantly increased exposure to thoracic dust, endotoxins, bacteria and fungi. Exposure to bacteria and fungi was reduced by cowsheds divided into cubicles, whereas using automatic muck scrappers in alleyway and automatic milking tended to increase exposure to bacteria and endotoxins. Finally, exposure to endotoxin and fungi were reduced by warmer farm buildings and well-ventilated buildings having walls with large openings.In conclusions, major occupational tasks and specific farm features determine the exposure of Breton dairy farmers to thoracic organic dust.HighlightsDairy farming exposes to thoracic dusts containing bacteria and moulds.Specific tasks and farm characteristics control exposures to thoracic organic dusts.Temperature and hygrometry also control the levels of organic dust exposure.

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