The USA is the third-leading cotton-producing country worldwide and cotton farming is common in the state of Georgia. Cotton harvest can be a significant contributor to airborne microbial exposures to farmers and nearby rural communities. The use of respirators or masks is one of the viable options for reducing organic dust and bioaerosol exposures among farmers. Unfortunately, the OSHA Respiratory Protection Standard (29 CFR Part 1910.134) does not apply to agricultural workplaces and the filtration efficiency of N95 respirators was never field-tested against airborne microorganisms and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) during cotton harvesting. This study addressed these two information gaps. Airborne culturable microorganisms were sampled using an SAS Super 100 Air Sampler in three cotton farms during cotton harvesting, and colonies were counted and converted to airborne concentrations. Genomic DNA was extracted from air samples using a PowerSoil® DNA Isolation Kit. A series of comparative critical threshold (2−ΔΔCT) real-time PCR was used to quantify targeted bacterial (16S rRNA) genes and major ARGs. Two N95 facepiece respirator models (cup-shaped and pleated) were evaluated for their protection against culturable bacteria and fungi, total microbial load in terms of surface ATP levels, and ARGs using a field experimental setup. Overall, culturable microbial exposure levels ranged between 103 and 104 CFU/m3 during cotton harvesting, which was lower when compared with bioaerosol loads reported earlier during other types of grain harvesting. The findings suggested that cotton harvesting works can release antibiotic resistance genes in farm air and the highest abundance was observed for phenicol. Field experimental data suggested that tested N95 respirators did not provide desirable >95% protections against culturable microorganisms, the total microbial load, and ARGs during cotton harvesting.
Adhikari, Atin, Pratik Banerjee, Taylor Thornton, Daleniece Higgins, Caleb Adeoye, Sonam Sherpa.
"Exposure Levels of Airborne Fungi, Bacteria, and Antibiotic Resistance Genes in Cotton Farms during Cotton Harvesting and Evaluations of N95 Respirators against These Bioaerosols."
Microorganisms, 11 (6): MDPI.
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