Building a Grain Bin Dust Simulator: A model to measure workers' exposure of organic dust

Research poster
Yang Geng
Dee Jepsen
Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Grain dust is a significant health risk in agricultural environments. Exposure to grain dust can diminish lung function as well as give rise to respiratory diseases like organic dust toxicity syndrome (ODTS), chronic bronchitis, hypersensitivity pneumonitis (Farmer's Lung). Grain storage facilities are considered confined spaces and are areas where farmers have high grain dust exposure.
The research objectives were to:
1. Understand farmers' exposure level of the grain dust; and
2. Develop a Grain Dust Simulator (GDS) to replicate the on-farm dust environment in a laboratory setting for development of effective dust mitigation and personal protection in on-farm grain bins.
We visited farms to collect dust samples for characterization analysis and conduct real-time dust concentration measurement using DustTrak. A GDS was built to replicate dust environment in storage bins found on-farms.
Results and Conclusions
The respirable dust concentration levels of corn storage ranged from 4.7 mg/m3 to 5.9 mg/m3 and the total suspended particles (TSP) concentration ranged from 4.6 mg/m3 to 32 mg/m3. Soybean storage bins had respirable dust levels of 9.5 mg/m3 to 20.8 mg/m3 and a TSP concentration range of 13.0 mg/m3 to 48.0 mg/m3. With both crops, respirable dust measurements were over the OSHA-recommended standard of 5 mg/m3.
In the lab, we successfully built a GDS system to simulate the dust environment on-farms. The benefits of a successful simulator can also advance agricultural health research where variables can be manipulated based on real-time factors and respiratory protection can be tested for their efficiency in these environments.