#EESPublishes: Prof. O’Mullan on Culturable bioaerosols on the urban waterfront

Professor Gregory D. O’Mullan of Queens College and the Graduate Center coauthored a paper in Peer J entitled “Culturable bioaerosols along an urban waterfront are primarily associated with coarse particles“.

Abstract: The source, characteristics and transport of viable microbial aerosols in urban centers are topics of significant environmental and public health concern. Recent studies have identified adjacent waterways, and especially polluted waterways, as an important source of microbial aerosols to urban air. The size of these aerosols influences how far they travel, their resistance to environmental stress, and their inhalation potential. In this study, we utilize a cascade impactor and aerosol particle monitor to characterize the size distribution of particles and culturable bacterial and fungal aerosols along the waterfront of a New York City embayment. We seek to address the potential contribution of bacterial aerosols from local sources and to determine how their number, size distribution, and taxonomic identity are affected by wind speed and wind direction (onshore vs. offshore). Total culturable microbial counts were higher under offshore winds (average of 778 CFU/m3 ± 67), with bacteria comprising the majority of colonies (58.5%), as compared to onshore winds (580 CFU/m3 ± 110) where fungi were dominant (87.7%). The majority of cultured bacteria and fungi sampled during both offshore winds (88%) and onshore winds (72%) were associated with coarse aerosols (>2.1 µm), indicative of production from local sources. There was a significant correlation (p < 0.05) of wind speed with both total and coarse culturable microbial aerosol concentrations. Taxonomic analysis, based on DNA sequencing, showed that Actinobacteria was the dominant phylum among aerosol isolates. In particular, Streptomyces and Bacillus, both spore forming genera that are often soil-associated, were abundant under both offshore and onshore wind conditions. Comparisons of bacterial communities present in the bioaerosol sequence libraries revealed that particle size played an important role in microbial aerosol taxonomy. Onshore and offshore coarse libraries were found to be most similar. This study demonstrates that the majority of culturable bacterial aerosols along a New York City waterfront were associated with coarse aerosol particles, highlighting the importance of local sources, and that the taxonomy of culturable aerosol bacteria differed by size fraction and wind direction.