Airborne biological agents have become prominent safety and health issues in agriculture, biotechnology, industrial settings, and the indoor environment. Each of these environments presents unique exposure concerns due to the nature of the encountered biological agent, the microbial concentrations, the modes of exposure, and the susceptibility of the exposed population. Acceptable levels of airborne microorganisms have not been established and the sampling methods and analytical techniques employed to assess airborne biocontaminants are varied and non-standardized. This paper reviews and compares the different air sampling methods for biological agents and classical analytical methods (i.e., culture and microscopy), analysis for specific microorganism constituents (i.e., ergosterol, muramic acid, glucans, allergens, mycotoxins, endotoxins) and molecular methods (i.e., polymerase chain reactions). Each of the described methods has distinct advantages and disadvantages. Selection of sampling and analytical methods depends upon the nature of the information that is sought; there is no one ideal sampling or analytical method. Combinations of sampling and analytical methods can provide a wide range of data that can be effectively tailored to many different environmental settings.
Kenneth F Martinez, Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health 4676 Columbia Parkway MS-R11, Cincinnati, OH 45213