The conservation of freshwater is of both global and national importance, and in the United States, agriculture is one of the largest consumers of this resource. Reduction of the strain farming puts on local surface or groundwater is vital for ensuring resilience in the face of climate change, and one possible option is to irrigate with a combination of freshwater and reclaimed water from municipal wastewater treatment facilities. However, this wastewater can contain pathogens that are harmful to human health, such as Legionella pneumophila, which is a bacterium that can survive aerosolization and airborne transportation and cause severe pneumonia when inhaled. To assess an individual adult's risk of infection with L. pneumophila from a single exposure to agricultural spray irrigation, a quantitative microbial risk assessment was conducted for a scenario of spray irrigation in central Illinois, for the growing seasons in 2017, 2018, and 2019. The assessment found that the mean risk of infection for a single exposure exceeded the safety threshold of 10–6 infections/exposure up to 1 km from a low-pressure irrigator and up to 2 km from a high-pressure irrigator, although no median risk exceeded the threshold for any distance or irrigator pressure. These findings suggest that spray irrigation with treated municipal wastewater could be a viable option for reducing freshwater consumption in Midwest farming, as long as irrigation on windy days is avoided and close proximity to the active irrigator is limited.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1115-1123
Number of pages9
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2023


  • Legionella pneumophila
  • agriculture
  • air dispersion modeling
  • quantitative microbial risk assessment
  • spray irrigation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Physiology (medical)


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