Just as individuals vary in their resistance to disease, a few individuals may be particularly sensitive to some of the organisms in compost. The high populations of many different species of molds and fungi in an active compost process can cause allergic responses in some people, though most experience no adverse reaction. One of these fungal species, Aspergillus fumigatus, can infect the respiratory system of a sensitive person who is heavily exposed. Conditions that may predispose individuals to infection or an allergic response include: a weakened immune system, allergies, asthma, some medications such as antibiotics and adrenal cortical hormones, or a punctured eardrum. People with these conditions should avoid turning compost piles or take precautions to minimize exposure.
To minimize these potential risks, common OSHA approved dust masks can be worn under dry and dusty conditions, especially when the compost is being turned. If, following these precautions, individuals still develop an infection or have an allergic reaction to compost, they should consult a medical professional.
See also Cornell Waste Management Institute fact sheet, "Health and Safety Guidance for Small Scale Composting".
Cornell Waste Management Institute ©1996