Arena Dust and Human Health

Respiratory health in horses is often a concern, and we work tirelessly to control dust in our horses' working and living environments. Ironically, we give little regard to our own respiratory health in and around the barn. It has long been known that agriculture workers are at risk of dust-induced respiratory diseases such as asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic bronchitis. However, a study has shown that dust exposure also is associated with respiratory disorders among riding instructors, in particular asthma, chronic bronchitis, non-infectious rhinitis (inflammation of the mucous membrane of the nose), and pneumonia. According to the data, "Both non-smoker and smoker equestrian instructors are more likely to develop bronchitis symptoms if the primary working facility is an indoor arena compared with an outdoor arena."

According to the researchers from Colorado State, Pennsylvania State (PSU), and East Carolina Universities, dusty riding surfaces were the primary culprits causing respiratory illness. Instructors working in enclosed arenas for several hours per day were most at risk, especially for asthma. Thirty-nine percent of the 348 instructors reported wheezing and 17% reported asthma. The latest American Lung Association data (2003) reports that asthma symptom prevalence in the general population was 7.3%.

Rhinitis symptoms were also elevated. Most telling was the percentage of pneumonia cases within the relatively young group, with 25% reporting hospitalization. A.M. Swinker, PhD, Cooperative Extension horse specialist, of PSU says this may be caused by using composted manure as footing.

"Composted manure makes a nice cushy footing that holds moisture so that it keeps the dust down," says Swinker. "Incorporated with the sand and the rubber product it makes a nice footing, but we found out that instructors who worked in an indoor arena with recycled manure had a 25% greater chance of developing bacterial pneumonia than people who didn't. Overall, our study was very eye-opening. With indoor arenas good ventilation is very important. The human instructor is at risk as well as the horse."

About the Author

Sharon Biggs Waller

Sharon Biggs Waller is a freelance writer for equine ­science and human interest publications. Her work has appeared in several publications and on several websites, and she is a classical dressage instructor.

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