Endotoxin and Hydrogen Sulphide Exposure and Effects on the Airways Among Waste Water Workers in Sewage Treatment Plants and Sewer Net System
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionAnnals of Work Exposures and Health. 2019, 63 (4), 437-447. 10.1093/annweh/wxz020
Background: The purpose of this study is to investigate whether airborne exposure to endotoxins, hydrogen sulphide (H2S), and inhalable particles negatively impacts the respiratory system and inflammatory blood proteins in sewage plant and sewer net system workers and, further, to determine dose-response associations between exposure and health outcomes. Methods: In total, 148 waste water workers (WWWs) from urban and rural sewage plants and the sewer net system participated. One hundred and twenty-one workers were exposed to sewage, 46 from sewage plants and 75 from the sewer net system. Twenty-seven workers were characterized as little or not exposed and served as an internal reference group. Personal inhalable samples were analysed for endotoxins (Limulus assay), particle dust (gravimetrically) and Salmonella and Yersinia spp. (polymerase chain reaction method, PCR). Levels of H2S were measured using personal electro chemical sensors. Intercellular adhesion molecule 1 (ICAM-1), interleukin 8 (IL-8), surfactant protein D (SP-D), club cell protein 16 (CC16), and macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP) were determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and C-reactive protein (CRP) by an HS-MicroCRP assay in blood samples. Results: Workers in sewage plants were exposed to significantly higher levels of endotoxins compared to workers in the sewer net system [median 55 EU m−3 (4–262 EU m−3) and median 27 EU m−3 (1–304 EU m−3), respectively]. The estimated H2S index showed higher values when working in the sewer net system [median 3.1 (0.5–78.1)] compared to workers at the sewage plants [median 1.3 (0.5–9.3)], and the most excessive exposure was collecting sewage from cesspools (273 p.p.m.). No viable airborne Salmonella and Yersinia spp. were detected. The exposed workers had significantly higher CRP compared to the referents [1.2 µg ml−1 (0.1–19.0 µg ml−1) and 0.8 µg ml−1 (0.1–5.0 µg ml−1), respectively] and lower forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1)% [92.6%, standard deviation (SD) 14.6 and 102.0%, SD 10.1, respectively], with numbers given as mean and SD. The serum concentration of CRP was significantly and negatively associated with FEV1% (β = −7.7, R2 = 0.05) and forced vital capacity % (β = −8.5, R2 = 0.08), and the serum concentration of ICAM-1 with the estimated exposure to H2S (β = −19.9, R2 = 0.07). Conclusion: Despite moderate levels of endotoxin and H2S exposure, the results indicate an impact of these agents on lung function and the adhesion molecule ICAM-1, and a low-grade systemic inflammation was indicated in increased levels of CRP.