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Waste picking contributes to sustainable development while simultaneously providing an income for socioeconomically disadvantaged people. However, there are occupational hazards and health risks involved. We hypothesised that waste pickers may be exposed to increased amounts of dust that could exacerbate respiratory effects. A validated questionnaire for respiratory health was administered to 102 waste pickers and exposure to environmental and personal PM2.5 was evaluated. There was a relatively high prevalence of chronic cough and wheeze amongst all participants (57% and 51% respectively). Males reported a higher frequency of cough (64.9%), shortness of breath (68.7%) and wheeze (67.3%) than females. The interquartile range (IQR) for personal sampling was 286 μg/m3 compared to 15.8 μg/m3 for environmental sampling, which exceeded South African guidelines. The increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms among participants in this study may be attributed to the exposure to particulate matter in their working environments. This could be exacerbated by the limited use of personal protective equipment.
Keywords: Waste picker, respiratory health, PPE, PM2.5, occupational hazard.