High levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers in vacuum cleaner dust from California fire stations

Firefighters are exposed to chemicals during fire events and may also experience chemical exposure in their fire stations. Dust samples from used vacuum cleaner bags were collected from 20 fire stations in California and analysed for polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Median dust concentrations were higher for PBDEs (e.g., 47000 ng/g for BDE-209) than for PAHs (e.g., 220 ng/g for benzo[a]pyrene) or PCBs (e.g., 9.3 ng/g for PCB-180). BDE-209 concentrations in dust from California fire stations were among the highest of any previously documented homes or occupational settings in the world. The authors examined factors such as the frequency of emergency responses, the number of fire vehicles on site, and building age, but could not account for the high levels of BDE-209 observed in fire station dust. Based on the findings of the pilot study, the authors hypothesise that possible sources of BDE-209 in fire stations include contaminated ash tracked back from fire events via boots, clothing, and other equipment as well as specialised equipment treated with BDE-209, including turnout gear and fire vehicles. It was suggested possible follow-up studies to confirm these hypotheses.

Authors: Shen B, Whitehead TP, McNeel S, Brown FR, Dhaliwal J, Das R, Israel L, Park JS, Petreas M. ;Full Source: Environmental Science & Technology. 2015 Apr 21;49(8):4988-94. doi: 10.1021/es505463g. Epub 2015 Apr 7. ;