Personal exposure of dairy workers to dust, endotoxin, muramic acid, ergosterol, and ammonia on large-scale dairies in the high plains western United States

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene


Taylor & Francis

Place of Publication

United States


School of Medical and Health Sciences




Davidson, M. E., Schaeffer, J., Clark, M. L., Magzamen, S., Brooks, E. J., Keefe, T. J., ... & Poole, J. A. (2018). Personal exposure of dairy workers to dust, endotoxin, muramic acid, ergosterol, and ammonia on large-scale dairies in the high plains Western United States. Journal of occupational and environmental hygiene, 15(3), 182-193. Available here.


Dairy workers experience a high degree of bioaerosol exposure, composed of an array of biological and chemical constituents, which have been tied to adverse health effects. A better understanding of the variation in the magnitude and composition of exposures by task is needed to inform worker protection strategies. To characterize the levels and types of exposures, 115 dairy workers grouped into three task categories on nine farms in the high plains Western United States underwent personal monitoring for inhalable dust, endotoxin, 3-hydroxy fatty acids (3-OHFA), muramic acid, ergosterol, and ammonia through one work shift. Eighty-nine percent of dairy workers were exposed to endotoxin at concentrations exceeding the recommended exposure guidelines (adjusted for a long work shift). The proportion of workers with exposures exceeding recommended guidelines was lower for inhalable dust (12%), and ammonia (1%). Ergosterol exposures were only measurable on 28% of samples, primarily among medical workers and feed handlers. Milking parlor workers were exposed to significantly higher inhalable dust, endotoxin, 3-OHFA, ammonia, and muramic acid concentrations compared to workers performing other tasks. Development of large modern dairies has successfully made progress in reducing worker exposures and lung disease prevalence. However, exposure to endotoxin, dust, and ammonia continues to present a significant risk to worker health on North American dairies, especially for workers in milking parlors. This study was among the first to concurrently evaluate occupational exposure to assayable endotoxin (lipid A), 3-hydroxy fatty acids or 3-OHFA (a chemical measure of cell bound and noncell-bound endotoxins), muramic acid, ergosterol, and ammonia among workers on Western U.S. dairies. There remains a need for cost-effective, culturally acceptable intervention strategies integrated in OHS Risk Management and production systems to further optimize worker health and farm productivity.



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