Review of biological risks associated with the collection of municipal wastes

Tidsskriftartikel - 2021


In many countries, the management of household waste has recently changed with an increased focus upon waste sorting resulting in lower collection frequency for some waste fractions. A consequence of this is the potential for increased growth of microorganisms in the waste before collection, which can lead to an increased exposure via inhalation for waste collection workers. Through a review of the literature, we aimed to evaluate risks caused by waste collecting workers’ exposure to bioaerosols and to illuminate potential measures to reduce the exposure. Across countries and waste types, median exposure to fungi, bacteria, and endotoxin were typically around 104 colony forming units (cfu)/m3, 104 cfu/m3, and 10 EU/m3, respectively. However, some studies found 10-20+ times higher or lower median exposure levels. It was not clear how different types of waste influence the occupational exposure levels. Factors such as high loading, ventilation in and cleaning of drivers' cabs, increased collection frequency, waste in sealed sacks, and use of hand sanitizer reduce exposure. Incidences of gastrointestinal problems, irritation of the eye and skin and symptoms of organic dust toxic syndrome have been reported in workers engaged in waste collection. Several studies reported a correlation between bioaerosol exposure level and reduced lung function as either a short or a long term effect; exposure to fungi and endotoxin is often associated with an inflammatory response in exposed workers. However, a better understanding of the effect of specific microbial species on health outcomes is needed to proceed to more reliable risk assessments. Due to the increasing recycling effort and to the effects of global warming, exposure to biological agents in this working sector is expected to increase. Therefore, it is important to look ahead and plan future measures as well as improve methods to prevent long and short-term health effects.


Madsen AM, Raulf M, Duquenne P, Graff P, Cyprowski M, Beswick A, Laitinen S, Rasmussen PU, Hinker M, Kolk A, Górny RL, Oppliger A, Crook B. Review of biological risks associated with the collection of municipal wastes. Science of the Total Environment 2021;791:148287.
doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.148287

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