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Bioaerosols - out of sight but not out of our minds

Air Quality and Odour By Annie Trevis, Senior Air Quality Consultant – 20 September 2023

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Annie has her hair down on her shoulders in black and white dress standing against a brick wall

Annie Trevis

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What are bioaerosols?
Bioaerosols (biological aerosols) are airborne microorganisms that have a biological source, such as bacteria, fungi, pollen and viruses. Many are naturally occurring within the environment and their formation and transportation is as a result of meteorological conditions in the area. However, human activities are also a significant source. Once airborne, bioaerosols can then be transported locally, regionally and even globally. Bioaerosols are also present in indoor environments, with a number of sources such as damp/humid conditions, dust, waste, and even your pets!

The presence of bioaerosols in the air that you breathe can result in the transmission of infectious diseases, particularly impacting respiratory health and lung function. Those with existing respiratory health conditions can be more susceptible to negative impacts associated with exposure to certain bioaerosols. There is still limited research related to the health impacts of bioaerosols, but resultant conditions can be extremely serious, with links to cancer reported.

How can Cundall help?

Processes associated with the waste sector are one example of a human activity that results in the release of bioaerosols into the atmosphere. Waste treatment technologies are mainly associated with mesophilic bacteria and Aspergillus fumigatus, which are known to be responsible for human infections. These bioaerosols are therefore often regulated by the Environment Agency and monitoring is a requirement within the permit for the facility/process.

The Air Quality Team at Cundall carries out bioaerosol monitoring at waste sites across the UK in line with the Environment Agency’s guidance TGN M9 Environmental Monitoring of Bioaerosols at Regulated Facilities, Version 2, July 20181. This involves the sampling of air, followed by laboratory analysis of the samples to provide bioaerosol concentrations. We produce interpretive reports and can advise on suitable mitigation measures if required.

Additionally, our established and versatile sampling strategy and expertise means Cundall can sample bioaerosols in both indoor and outdoor air, to investigate any concerns that our clients may have. We can carry out personal sampling, where a volunteer will wear a small attachment containing a filter, and the results will give an indication of the exposure of that person over a certain time period. This can be directly related to the activities carried out by that person, and their movements during the day, to help pinpoint the potential bioaerosol sources and any issues that may be present.

This monitoring of bioaerosols is vital to understand their variability and to provide suitable mitigation. There is currently growing research in this field and technology is emerging for the filtration of bioaerosols in indoor air in particular. Cundall’s expertise also includes indoor environment quality (IEQ), and the addition of bioaerosols under this umbrella means we can offer holistic solutions that are above and beyond the standard consultancy services - something we always strive to do!