Exposure of Firefighters to Particulates and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
Firefighting continues to be among the most hazardous yet least studied occupations in terms of exposures and their relationship to occupational disease. Exposures are complex, involving mixtures of particles and chemicals such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Adverse health effects associated with these agents include elevated incidences of coronary heart disease and several cancers. PAHs have been detected at fire scenes, and in the firehouse rest area and kitchen, routinely adjoining the truck bay, and where firefighters spend a major part of each shift. An academic-community partnership was developed with the Cincinnati Fire Department with the goal of understanding active firefighters’ airborne and dermal PAH exposure. PAHs were measured in air and particulates, and number and mass concentrations, respectively, of submicron (0.02–1 μm) and PM2.5 (2.5 μm diameter and less) particles during overhaul events in two firehouses and a University of Cincinnati administrative facility as a comparison location. During overhaul firefighters evaluate partially combusted materials for re-ignition after fire extinguishment and commonly remove Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA). Face and neck wipes were also collected at a domestic fire scene. Overhaul air samples had higher mean concentrations of PM2.5 and submicron particles than those collected in the firehouse, principally in the truck bay and kitchen. Among the 17 PAHs analyzed, only naphthalene and acenaphthylene were generally detectable. Naphthalene was present in 7 out of 8 overhaul activities, in 2 out of 3 firehouse (kitchen and truck bay) samples, and in none collected from the control site. In firefighter face and neck wipes a greater number of PAHs were found, several of which have carcinogenic activity, such as benzofluoranthene, an agent also found in overhaul air samples. Although the concentration for naphthalene, and all other individual PAHs, was very low, the potential simultaneous exposure to multiple chemicals even in small quantities in combination with high ultrafine particle exposure deserves further study. It is recommended that personal respiratory and skin protection be worn throughout the overhaul process.