Tracking airborne Legionella and Legionella pneumophila at a biological treatment plant

Blatny, Janet Martha
Reif, Bjørn Anders Pettersson
Skogan, Gunnar
Andreassen, Øyvind
Høiby, Ernst Arne
Ask, Eirik
Waagen, Viggo
Aanonsen, Dag
Aaberge, Ingeborg Aase S.
Caugant, Dominique A
Blatny, Janet Martha; Reif, Bjørn Anders Pettersson; Skogan, Gunnar; Andreassen, Øyvind; Høiby, Ernst Arne; Ask, Eirik; Waagen, Viggo; Aanonsen, Dag; Aaberge, Ingeborg Aase S.; Caugant, Dominique A. Tracking airborne Legionella and Legionella pneumophila at a biological treatment plant. Environmental Science and Technology 2008 ;Volum 42.(19) s. 7360-7367
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Biological treatment plants are frequently used to degrade organic substances in wastewater from wood refinement processes. Aeration ponds in such plants provide an optimal growth environment for many microorganisms, including Legionella species. To investigate whether legionellae could be dispersed as aerosols from the ponds and transported by the wind, the wetted-wall cyclone SASS 2000PLUS and the impactors MAS-100 and STA-204 were used to collect air samples directly above, upwind, and downwind of aeration ponds during a 4-month period. Computational fluid dynamics was used a priori to estimate the aerosol paths and to determine suitable air-sampling locations. Several Legionella species, including Legionella pneumophila, were identified in air samples at the biological treatment plant using microbiological and molecular methods. L. pneumophila was identified up to distances of 200 m downwind from the ponds, but, in general, not upwind nor outside the predicted aerosol paths. The highest concentration level of viable legionellae was identified directly above the aeration ponds (3300 CFU/m3). This level decreased as the distance from the aeration ponds increased. Molecular typing indicated that a single clone of L. pneumophila was dispersed from the ponds during the period of the study. Thus, our study demonstrated that aerosols generated at aeration ponds of biological treatment facilities may contain L. pneumophila, which then can be transported by the wind to the surroundings. The methods used in this study may be generically applied to trace biological aerosols that may pose a challenge to environmental occupational health.
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