Occupational Exposure to Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon of Wildland Firefighters at Prescribed and Wildland Fires

Wildland firefighters suppressing wildland fires or conducting prescribed fires work long shifts during which they are exposed to high levels of wood smoke with no respiratory protection. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are hazardous air pollutants formed during incomplete combustion. Exposure to PAHs was measured for 21 wildland firefighters suppressing two wildland fires and 4 wildland firefighters conducting prescribed burns in California. Personal air samples were actively collected using XAD4-coated quartz fibre filters and XAD2 sorbent tubes. Samples were analysed for 17 individual PAHs through extraction with dichloromethane and gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer analysis. Naphthalene, retene, and phenanthrene were consistently the highest measured PAHs. PAH concentrations were higher at wildland fires compared to prescribed fires and were highest for firefighters during job tasks that involve the most direct contact with smoke near an actively burning wildland fire. Although concentrations did not exceed current occupational exposure limits, wildland firefighters are exposed to PAHs not only on the fire line at wildland fires, but also while working prescribed burns and while off-duty. The authors concluded that characterisation of occupational exposures from wildland firefighting is important to understand better any potential long-term health effects.

Authors: Navarro KM, Cisneros R, Noth EM, Balmes JR, Hammond SK. ;Full Source: Environmental Science & Technology. 2017 May 19. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b00950. [Epub ahead of print] ;