Compost spores and health

Jim Mcnelly jim.mcnelly at
Mon Mar 21 19:45:00 EST 1994

Subject: Compost spores and health

  >To: sanet-mg at
  >Subject: compost spores & health

LL>Can anyone answer below (forwarded) message?

LL>>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.  Thanks!  -- David Hess,
  >>Executive Director, Pennsylvania Senate Environmental
  >>Resources & Energy Committee.

There was no e-mail address attached from David Hess, so let me pass on
what I know on the subject.

Certain individuals are allergic to aspergillus fumigatus, and will
develop allergies including respiratory ailments if exposed repeatedly.
A.F. is ubiquitous in dust, animal manures, soil, leaf mould, grain, or
any concentration of organic matter that is dry.  The pathway of
ingestion is through the lungs.

Individuals that are immunosuppressive (Aids) can have extreme reactions
to aspergillus exposure, which was the case cited at the Islip facility.
The best compendium of data I am aware of was gathered by
representatives of the Composting Council of Alexandria, VA, at
703-739-2401.  There are also summaries of the topic in BioCycle
Magazine over the last two years.

As a composting professional, I take the issue very seriously.  While
99% of the population is not allergic to A.F., enough are to cause me to
design composting facilities such that there is no outdoor agitation or
screening, both of which cause fugitive dust.  This may eliminate many
low technology composting facilities as a result.

The issue, however, appears to be a "red herring" used by forces that
have a financial stake in the resumption of ocean dumping of sewage
sludge by eastern seaboard cities.  By using this issue in an attempt to
discredit all forms of composting, poor science and false association is
being linked to promote alternatives.

The A.F. issue, such as San Jose, California, is also being used to
close composting facilities in actions I believe may be driven by
property rights and NIMBY factions, not health concerns.

Ultimately, if we are going to close composting sites entirely due to
the A.F. problem, we will also have to cease mowing lawns, raking
leaves, allowing manure on farms, and all manner of other silliness.
The only significantly affected individual is the victim of Aids, and in
this case, I believe that it is more prudent to relocate these
individuals than to relocate expensive capital facilities.

Jim~ McNelly
ReSourceNet and GardenNet 612-654-8372, 656-0678 v.32bis
jim.mcnelly at
 * March 22nd - LOOK! It's a bird! It's a plane!  It', it's a bird.

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