Breathing Easy: Air Quality Testing in the Equine Barn

"I used to look at a beam of light with the motes of dust in it and think it was aesthetically pleasing," said Melissa R. Mazan, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, of the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in Massachusetts. "Now that I know what's in those dust motes, the pleasure is gone." Mazan described air quality testing in the equine barn at the 52nd annual American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 2-6, 2006, in San Antonio, Texas.

Mazan explained that 25-80% of stabled horses develop neutrophilic airway inflammation (inflammation caused by a type of white blood cell that helps kill and digest microorganisms). However, air quality testing along with owner education, modification of barn and field setups, and improved management practices can go a long way to clear the air.

"It is difficult to persuade trainers and owners that there might be anything wrong with a barn," Mazan said. "We've found that hard data can be worth a thousand words."

You can collect data on air quality using a calibrated air pump and a host of filters to collect particulate in the air. You can choose filters for various sizes of particulates as well as filters specific to endotoxins and molds.

"Anything you'd like to look for you can have analyzed on those filters," Mazan said. She submits her filters to an Environmental Protection Agency laboratory for the analysis.

Filters and pumps can be worn by horses fitted with surcingles, or they can be worn by employees for real-time analysis.

According to Mazan, the average barn has levels of particulates that are "off the chart," referring to acceptable and unacceptable levels of various airborne particulates set for human environments. Mazan said comparing levels of particulates commonly found in equine barns and those allowed by workplace regulatory agencies shows that barns have extremely high loads. Grain dust, for example, is so high in endotoxins that it is associated with occupational asthma in humans.

Get research and health news from the American Association of Equine Practitioners 2006 Convention in The Horse's AAEP 2006 Wrap-Up sponsored by OCD Equine. Files are available as free PDF downloads.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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