Exposure to metals and semivolatile organic compounds in Australian fire stations



Publication Details

M. Engelsman, M. F. Snoek, A. P. W. Banks, P. Cantrell, X. Wang, L. Toms & D. J. Koppel, "Exposure to metals and semivolatile organic compounds in Australian fire stations", Environmental Research 179 Part A (2019) 108745-1-108745-8.


Firefighting is an occupation with exposure to a wide range of chemicals by means of inhalation, ingestion or dermal contact. Although advancements in personal protective clothing and equipment have reduced the risks for acute exposure during fire suppression operations, chronic exposure may still be present at elevated levels in fire stations. The aim of this study was to assess chemicals in air and on surfaces in fire stations, compare this with other indoor environments, and use this data to estimate firefighter exposure within the fire station. Fifteen Australian fire stations were selected for chemical exposure assessment by means of 135 active air monitors, 60 passive air monitors, and 918 wipe samples. These samples were collected from the interior and exterior of fire stations, from personal protective clothing and equipment, and from within the cabins of vehicles. Chemicals analysed included polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, metals, and diesel particulate matter. Specific chemicals were detected from within each class of chemicals, with metals being most frequently detected. Statistical analysis by means of Pearson's Correlations and threshold tests were used to consider the source of exposure, and a collective addition risk quotient calculation was used to determine firefighter exposure. The presence of metals in fire stations was compared with findings from global indoor dust measurements. Concentrations across firefighter ensemble, inside vehicle cabins, and within fire stations for chromium (39.5-493 μg/m2), lead (46.7-619 μg/m2), copper (594-3440 μg/m2), zinc (11100-20900 μg/m2), nickel (28.6-2469 μg/m2) and manganese (73.0-997 μg/m2) were in most instances orders of magnitude higher when compared with concentrations measured in homes and offices. Our study suggests that the elevated concentrations are associated with the transfer of chemicals from fire suppression operations. Due to this elevated concentration of chemicals, firefighters may face increased exposure, and in turn increased risk of adverse health effects. Data suggest that exposure may be mitigated by means of increased laundering frequency and increased decontamination at the scene of the fire. Capsule: This study examines the exposures firefighters face to metals and other chemicals while at the fire station.

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