Health Impacts of Bioaerosols from Large Scale Biocomposting Waste Facilities

Project Background:

There are currently ~300 large (permitted) composting sites in the UK and ~15,500 smaller (non-permitted) sites. These sites could give rise to significant exposures to ambient bioaerosols - whose components include fungal spores, live bacteria, allergens and respiratory sensitisers (e.g. endotoxin).

Study Aims:

This programme of work aims to investigate whether people living near large-scale waste composting sites and potentially exposed to bioaerosols have higher rates of adverse health outcomes than the general population.  Following a systematic review of literature examining previous literature of bioaerosol measurements and health effects, small area epidemiological studies investigating the relationship between proximity composting site and risks of health outcomes will be carried out. These will initially look at distance from site as a proxy for exposure and respiratory hospital admissions, using NHS Digital HES records (‘pilot study’). Further work will investigate modelling of bioaerosol concentrations in the vicinity of composting sites to improve on distance as a measure of exposure near sites. Exposure estimation will use Geographical Information System (GIS) based methods and dispersion modelling (for regulated sites only) based on emission characteristics and meteorological data.  Collaborations with Public Health England and other university research groups investigating waste composting and bioaerosols have been established.

Health data:

NHS Digital HES inpatients, ONS births, ONS mortality

Benefits to Public:

The results are highly relevant to and will potentially influence waste management policy and regulatory practices in the UK.  Findings are likely to have a high-profile and to be useful in particular to Defra, the EA and PHE as well as industry groups and the Organics Recycling Group (ORG).


• Douglas P, Bakolis I, Fecht D, Pearson C, Leal Sanchez M, Kinnersley R, de Hoogh K, Hansell AL. Respiratory hospital admission risk near large composting facilities. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2016 Jul;219(4-5):372-9.

• Pearson, Clare, et al. "Exposures and Health Outcomes in Relation to Bioaerosol Emissions From Composting Facilities: A Systematic Review of Occupational and Community Studies." Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B 18.1 (2015): 43-69.