Work in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) can be associated with respiratory symptoms and diarrhea. The aim of this study was to obtain knowledge about WWTP workers’ exposure to airborne bacteria and endotoxin, and the inflammatory potential (TIP) of their exposure, and to evaluate the risk posed by the exposure by 1) calculating a hazard index and relating the exposure to suggested occupational exposure limits (OELs), 2) estimating the potential deposition of bacteria in the airways, 3) relating it to the risk group classification of bacteria by the European Union, and 4) estimating the TIP of the personal exposure. A cohort of 14 workers were followed over one year. Bioaerosols were collected using personal and stationary samplers in a grid chamber house and an aeration tank area. Airborne bacteria were identified using (MALDI-TOF MS), and TIP of exposure was measured using HL-60 cells. A significant effect of season, work task, and person was found on the personal exposure. A hazard index based on exposure levels indicates that the risk caused by inhalation is low. In relation to suggested OELs, 14% and 34% of the personal exposure were exceeded for endotoxin (≥50 EU/m) and bacteria (≥500 CFU/m). At least 70% of the airborne bacteria in the grid chamber house and the aeration tank area could potentially deposit in the lower respiratory tract. From the personal samples, three of 131 bacterial species, Enterobacter cloacae, Staphylococcus aureus, and Yersinia enterocolitica are classified within Risk Group 2. Seven additional bacteria from the stationary samples belong to Risk Group 2. The bacterial species composition was affected significantly by season (p = 0.014) and by sampling type/area (p = 0.001). The TIP of WWTP workers’ exposure was higher than of a reference sample, and the highest TIP was measured in autumn. TIP of personal exposure correlated with bacterial exposure. Based on the geometric average exposures to endotoxin (9.2 EU/m) and bacteria (299 CFU/m) and based on the calculated hazard index, the risk associated with exposure is low. However, since 43 of 106 exposure levels exceed suggested OELs, the TIP of exposure was elevated and associated with bacterial exposure, and WWTP workers were exposed to pathogenic bacteria, a continued focus on preventive measures is important. The identification of bacteria to species level in personal samples was necessary in the risk assessment, and measurement of the microbial composition made the source tracking possible.
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