>We are looking for information on the possible health
>effects of a mold spore-- Aspergillus fumigatus-- that is
>associated with composting operations and can also be found
>in the air and in buildings. A study by the New York state
>Dept. of Health came out last week with information
>suggesting that it was not the cause of respiratory or other
>health problems around an Islip Long Island composting
>facility. At the same time the study said composting
>facilities should not be located near hospitals, in
>particular, medical facilities with bone marrow transplant
>operations. If you have any information on this subject,
>please send me an e-mail message.
Aspergillus f. is a common fungus found in decaying organic matter and soil
throughout the world - it's spores are airborne and are constantly inhaled.
The fungus is a recognized pathogen of birds, humans and other animals causing
acute or chronic infection primarily of the respiratory tract, viz. aspergillo-
sis. Since A.f. is heat tolerant, it can survive the high temperatures normally
found in the composting process.
Aspergillus f. is an opportunistic fungus or secondary pathogen which invades
and infects debilitated or immunocompromised individuals. Rarely, although
instances have been reported, does the disease infect nondebilitated persons,
thus, the rationale for locating composting facilities away from hospitals
while not ascribing any great health risk to the larger population.
The *common wisdom* is that composting facilities should not present a
threat to healthy workers et al, as long as certain precautions are taken, i.e.
use of biofilters or other air scrubbing systems to reduce dust in contained
areas (e.g. inside screening areas), keep outdoor windrows moist to prevent
dusty conditions, sites should have adequate buffer areas (e.g. separation of
facilities from residences by a wooded area), and screening of workers.
An excellent review of this public health issue has been presented by Eliot
Epstein in the January 1994 issue of Biocycle (pp. 51-57). This should serve
as another reminder that their is risk in most everything, even the most
inocuous and beneficial appearing practices. We must decide how much risk we
are willing to take.