Diesel Exhaust Exposure during Farming Activities: Statistical Modeling of Continuous Black Carbon Concentrations



Daily driving of diesel-powered tractors has been linked to increased lung cancer risk in farmers, yet few studies have quantified exposure levels to diesel exhaust during tractor driving or during other farm activities. We expanded an earlier task-based descriptive investigation of factors associated with real-time exposure levels to black carbon (BC, a surrogate of diesel exhaust) in Iowa farmers by increasing the sample size, collecting repeated measurements, and applying statistical models adapted to continuous measurements.


The expanded study added 43 days of sampling, for a total of 63 sample days conducted in 2015 and 2016 on 31 Iowa farmers. Real-time, continuous monitoring (30-s intervals) of personal BC concentrations was performed using a MicroAeth AE51 microaethelometer affixed with a micro-cyclone. A field researcher recorded information on tasks, fuel type, farmer location, and proximity to burning biomass. We evaluated the influence of these variables on log-transformed BC concentrations using a linear mixed-effect model with random effects for farmer and day and a first-order autoregressive structure for within-day correlation.


Proximity to diesel-powered equipment was observed for 42.5% of the overall sampling time and on 61 of the 63 sample days. Predicted geometric mean BC concentrations were highest during grain bin work, loading, and harvesting, and lower for soil preparation and planting. A 68% increase in BC concentrations was predicted for close proximity to a diesel-powered vehicle, relative to far proximity, while BC concentrations were 44% higher in diesel vehicles with open cabins compared with closed cabins. Task, farmer location, fuel type, and proximity to burning biomass explained 8% of within-day variance in BC concentrations, 2% of between-day variance, and no between-farmer variance.


Our findings showed that farmers worked frequently near diesel equipment and that BC concentrations varied between tasks and by fuel type, farmer location, and proximity to burning biomass. These results could support the development of exposure models applicable to investigations of health effects in farmers associated with exposure to diesel engine exhaust.

Authors: Sauvé JF, Stapleton EM, O’Shaughnessy PT, Locke SJ, Josse PR, Altmaier RW, Silverman DT, Liu D, Albert PS, Beane Freeman LE, Hofmann JN, Thorne PS, Jones RR, Friesen MC
; Full Source: Annals of work exposures and health. 2020 Mar 27. pii: wxaa032. doi: 10.1093/annweh/wxaa032. [Epub ahead of print]