Evaluating fungal populations by genera/species on wide body commercial passenger aircraft and in airport terminals

Lauralynn Taylor McKernan, Harriet Burge, Kenneth M Wallingford, Misty J Hein, Robert Herrick
Annals of Occupational Hygiene 2007, 51 (3): 281-91
Given the potential health effects of fungi and the amount of time aircrew and passengers spend inside aircraft, it is important to study fungal populations in the aircraft environment. Research objectives included documenting the genera/species of airborne culturable fungal concentrations and total spore concentrations on a twin-aisle wide body commercial passenger aircraft. Twelve flights between 4.5 and 6.5 h in duration on Boeing 767 (B-767) aircraft were evaluated. Two air cooling packs and 50% recirculation rate (i.e. 50:50 mix of outside air and filtered inside air) were utilized during flight operations. Passenger occupancy rates varied from 67 to 100%. N-6 impactors and total spore traps 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 resulting in a total of 522 culturable and 517 total spore samples. A total of 45 surface wipe samples were collected using swabs onboard the aircraft and inside the airport terminals. A variety of taxa were observed in the culturable and total spore samples. A frequency analysis of the fungal data indicated that Cladosporium, Aspergillus and Penicillium were predominant genera in the culturable samples whereas Cladosporium, Basidiospores and Penicillium/Aspergillus were predominant in the total spore samples. Fungal populations observed inside the aircraft were comprised of similar genera, detected significantly less frequently and with lower mean concentrations than those observed in typical office buildings. Although sources internal to the aircraft could not be ruled out, our data demonstrate the importance of passenger activity as the source of the fungi observed on aircraft. Isolated fungal peak events occurred occasionally when concentrations of a particular genus or species rose sharply inside the cabin for a limited period. Overall, our research demonstrates that on the sampled flights the B-767 filtration system operated efficiently to remove fungal spores when two air cooling packs and 50% recirculation rate were utilized during flight operations.

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