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Monitoring microbial populations on wide-body commercial passenger aircraft.

McKernan LT; Wallingford KM; Hein MJ; Burge H; Rogers CA; Herrick R
Ann Occup Hyg 2008 Mar; 52(2):139-149
Although exposure to bacteria has been assessed in cabin air previously, minimal numbers of samples have been collected in-flight. The purpose of this research was to comprehensively characterize bacterial concentrations in the aircraft cabin. Twelve randomly selected flights were sampled on Boeing-767 aircraft, each with a flight duration between 4.5 and 6.5 h. N-6 impactors were used to collect sequential, triplicate air samples in the front and rear of coach class during six sampling intervals throughout each flight: boarding, mid-climb, early cruise, mid-cruise, late cruise and deplaning. Comparison air samples were also collected inside and outside the airport terminals at the origin and destination cities. The MIXED procedure in SAS was used to model the mean and the covariance matrix of the natural log-transformed bacterial concentrations. A total of 513 airborne culturable bacterial samples were collected. During flight (mid-climb and cruise intervals), a model-adjusted geometric mean (GM) of 136 total colony-forming units per cubic meter of air sampled (CFU · m-3) and geometric standard deviation of 2.1 were observed. Bacterial concentrations were highest during the boarding (GM 290 CFU · m-3) and deplaning (GM 549 CFU · m-3) processes. Total bacterial concentrations observed during flight were significantly lower than GMs for boarding and deplaning (P values <0.0001-0.021) in the modeled results. Our findings highlight the fact that aerobiological concentrations can be dynamic and underscore the importance of appropriate sample size and design. The genera analysis indicates that passenger activity and high occupant density contribute to airborne bacterial generation. Overall, our research demonstrates that the bacteria recovered on observed flights were either common skin-surface organisms (primarily gram-positive cocci) or organisms common in dust and outdoor air.
Control-technology; Controlled-atmospheres; Controlled-environment; Engineering-controls; Ventilation; Ventilation-equipment; Ventilation-systems; Air-conditioning; Air-filters; Air-quality-control; Air-treatment; Volumetric-analysis; Laboratory-equipment; Laboratory-testing; Statistical-analysis; Qualitative-analysis; Quality-control; Heat; Heat-regulation; Heating-equipment; Combustion-chambers; Author Keywords: aerobiology; aircraft; bacteria concentrations; cabin air quality; MIXED modeling
Lauralynn Taylor McKernan, Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluation and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 4676 Columbia Parkway, MS-R14, Cincinnati, OH 45226
Publication Date
Document Type
Journal Article
Email Address
Funding Type
Fiscal Year
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NIOSH Division
Priority Area
Transportation, Warehousing and Utilities
Source Name
Annals of Occupational Hygiene
Performing Organization
Harvard School of Public Health
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division