Researchers from IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute have developed a unique method of measuring bacterial toxins – so-called endotoxins. Endotoxins pose a health risk for personnel who handle organic waste, and have been identified as a causal factor of many serious illnesses, such as chronic bronchitis and asthma.
Although endotoxins comprise a risk in the work environment, Sweden lacks a ceiling limit for occupational exposure. This is largely due to the difficulty of measuring these substances. Endotoxins are present in various forms, both free and bound with larger particles. There are both benign and harmful endotoxins – research studies seem to indicate that those with short carbon chains protect against allergies and asthma, while those with long carbon chains can have the opposite effect and constitute a risk for contracting these diseases.
The new technique is based on an analytical chemical method developed at the University of Lund in Sweden.
– One advantage of this method is that it measures both free and bound endotoxins and is able to distinguish between different types of endotoxins. This has not been possible until now, says Erica Bloom, researcher at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.
She leads a study currently underway at Swedish waste and biogas facilities where both new and old methods are deployed to identify the presence of various forms of endotoxin in different parts of the plants.
– Using these methods, we hope to gain a deeper understanding of the connection between endotoxins and health. We need a better overall picture of the extent to which personnel are exposed to these toxins and the risks run by those engaged in, for example, waste management. The measurements enable us refine procedures in the workplace that will reduce the risk of harmful exposure, says Erica Bloom.
The study is funded by AFA Försäkring, Avfall Sverige and the IVL Foundation. The project will also be beneficial to other sectors and industries where endotoxins may occur, such as agriculture, wastewater treatment plants, and the wood and the metal industries. A report based on the results of this study will be presented summer 2016.