Occupational exposure to silica dust has historically been known to cause chronic respiratory conditions. Workers and workplaces within agricultural industries remain removed from the attention of occupational health and safety. The identification and degree of exposure to respirable dust, crystalline silica, and endotoxins throughout the potato harvesting process has been uncharacterized. A description of the potential occupational risks in this setting was therefore warranted. The purpose of this research was to identify the components of dust during the fall potato harvest in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado. The agricultural practices specific to potato harvest, the geographic region, and the soil of San Luis Valley are believed to contribute to occupational risk. Testing sites included seven farms in this region, chosen based on their location, variable soil types, and owner interest. The following parameters were measured: respirable dust, respirable silica, bacterial endotoxins, and particle identification by scanning electron microscopy. All exposures were based on 8-hour time-weighted averages. Exposure impact included: location of the farm, soil type (sand, rock, loam), job description, weather conditions; wind, rain, wet or dry soil during harvest, humidity, and temperature. Results of air monitoring include 122 samples collected; 93 revealed the presence of respirable dust, and 18 detected respirable silica (quartz). The maximum respirable dust exposure was 5.05 mg/m3; respirable silica was 0.105 mg/m3; and percent silica was 12.85%. This information will allow employers to recognize where respirable dust and silica are generated and allow for planning and control implementation to adequately protect workers.
Full article can be found in: Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health
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