Suspended Dust in Poultry Facilities

Indoor air quality (IAQ) in poultry facilities is a critical factor for maintaining optimal conditions for poultry production and safeguarding the health of birds and producers. However, these facilities often face challenges related to indoor air pollution. The modern poultry industry has adopted intensive and free-run bird farming practices, resulting in increased emissions of contaminants such as dust particles. Dust can be generated from various sources like floor bedding, feed, feathers, manure, dander, bird skin, and microorganisms.1 These dust particulate matter (PM) exhibit distinct size distributions compared to other indoor and outdoor air, with concentrations generally 10 to 100 times higher.2 In poultry facilities, inorganic ions, volatile organic compounds, heavy metal ions, and antibiotics can be absorbed on the surface of PM.3 Additionally, PM could also serve as a vector for disease transmission.4 PM with diameters equal to or less than 2.5µm (PM2.5) and 10µm (PM10) is of particular concern in air quality studies. These fine particles can be inhaled and accumulate in the respiratory system, penetrating deep into the lungs and causing various health issues for both producers and chickens.5,6 Moreover, pollutants released from poultry farms can have negative consequences in different environmental compartments.7 Proper monitoring of air quality could help to reduce the health impact and environmental footprint while supporting food production.

Methods of investigating air quality and affecting parameters.

IAQ data in Canadian farms is particularly scarce, especially considering that poultry facilities are mostly indoors due to the harsh winter weather outside. Continuous air quality monitoring is challenging due to the cost of expensive research-grade instruments and highly dusty air inside poultry facilities. The use of low-cost sensors (LCS) can potentially address this issue. An ongoing study led by PhD student Rowshon Afroz and PI Ran Zhao, at the University of Alberta, aimed to assess the field performance of a custom-built LCS network in indoor poultry facilities. The performance of the sensor was tested in a commercial table egg farm near Edmonton, AB during winter. These sensors were specifically designed for dusty poultry facilities and successfully monitored the concentration of particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10), carbon dioxide (CO2), relative humidity (RH), and temperature in real time. Despite the challenging environment, these sensors operated continuously for several months, showing their potential to serve as an affordable solution for continuous real-time environmental monitoring in intensive food production facilities.

In this comprehensive study, several crucial findings have come to light, shedding new insights into the IAQ within poultry housing. The study revealed elevated levels of PM in the laying house, with PM10 at 5.5×104 and PM2.5 at 6.3×103 µg/m3 along with increased levels of CO2. For comparison, the Canadian outdoor PM2.5 guideline is 27 µg/m3 for a 24-hour average, which is almost a thousand times lower than what we observed in the housing. The concentration levels and trends were found mostly influenced by the chicken activity and light regime. Moreover, indoor PM and CO2 levels, temperature, and relative humidity exhibited a complex intercorrelation with each other, as well as influenced by the outdoor temperature and the building ventilation rate. In addition, the study also observed the impact of housing pollutants infiltration on areas where producers work regularly without personnel protective equipment (PPE). 

Practice for maintaining healthy IAQ in the poultry housing and protecting producers from harmful air pollutants.

(a) Real-time indoor environment monitoring is essential for maintaining better IAQ in chicken housing. By implementing an IAQ monitoring program, producers can identify sources and levels of indoor air pollution, as well as specific times when air pollutants peak, and take appropriate action to improve IAQ levels or mitigate risks. Based on our findings, it is recommended to track dust levels both inside the barn and in surrounding facilities where producers do not normally wear PPE. We hope that the sensor we developed and tested in this study serves as a pioneering effort toward achieving this goal.

(b) As expected, ventilation plays a pivotal role in controlling IAQ and dust concentrations. We found a general trend that the ventilation rate is reduced when outdoor temperatures reach low. The balance between ventilation and energy efficiency of the farm will continue to be a challenge for the Canadian poultry industry. Through our study, we wanted to raise awareness that a reduced ventilation rate reduces energy consumption during cold weather, but the benefit of which may be compromised by risks associated with elevated indoor air pollutants. This is particularly important during daytime, when the birds are active and lead to more suspended dust. 

(c) It is extremely crucial for chicken farm workers to wear proper PPE to avoid exposure to harmful contaminants and prevent health risks. We recommend masks that can filter out both particles and toxic gases (e.g., ammonia). As our study has shown that dust can infiltrate from the barn to its exterior through openings, effort should be made to make the barn as air airtight as possible, which also serves to reduce both the energy cost and the environmental footprint of the farm. 

Overall, a proactive and integrated approach that combines efficient ventilation, stringent hygiene practices, and continuous monitoring is essential to maintaining healthy IAQ in chicken farms, ensuring the well-being of both humans and animals, as well as the productivity of the farm, while also contributing to environmental sustainability.


1. Ahaduzzaman M, Milan L, Morton CL, Gerber PF, Walkden-Brown SW. Characterization of poultry house dust using chemometrics and scanning electron microscopy imaging. Poultry Science. 2021;100:101188.

2. Cambra-López M, Winkel A, Mosquera J, Ogink NWM, Aarnink AJA. Comparison between light scattering and gravimetric samplers for PM10 mass concentration in poultry and pig houses. Atmospheric Environment. 2015;111:20–27.

3. Li Q-F, Wang-Li L, Liu Z, Jayanty RKM, Shah SB, Bloomfield P. Major ionic compositions of fine particulate matter in an animal feeding operation facility and its vicinity. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association. 2014;64:1279–1287.

4. Wei J, Zhou J, Cheng K, et al. Assessing the risk of downwind spread of avian influenza virus via airborne particles from an urban wholesale poultry market. Building and Environment. 2018;127:120–126.

5. Viegas S, Faísca VM, Dias H, Clérigo A, Carolino E, Viegas C. Occupational Exposure to Poultry Dust and Effects on the Respiratory System in Workers. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A. 2013;76:230–239.

6. US EPA O. Particulate Matter (PM) Basics. April 19, 2016. Accessed August 28, 2023.

7. Gržinić G, Piotrowicz-Cieślak A, Klimkowicz-Pawlas A, et al. Intensive poultry farming: A review of the impact on the environment and human health. Science of The Total Environment. 2023;858:160014.

About the author(s)

Mst Rowshon Afroz
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Ran Zhao
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