Identification and Quantification of Firefighter VOC Exposure

Fighting Fires and Disease

Every day firefighters across the world spend countless hours diligently working to squash blazing flames in houses, factories, pasture land, forests, and more. They knowingly put their lives on the line to save others and their possessions from ruin. While the fire they battle is dangerous, it is not the leading cause of death among both career and volunteer firefighters. Constant, low-level, chemical exposures over a career of fighting fires result in most firefighters dying from cancer than any other on-the-job cause. A 2018 review (published in the International Journal of Cancer) of 48 independent scientific studies shows a significant correlation (greater than 95% confidence) between firefighting and vastly increased risks of cancer and mortality from cancer-related causes. A reported 74% of the IAFF’s line-of-duty deaths were cancer-related in 2022. The key to increased cancer prevention is access to better health monitoring devices that can provide guidelines for updated decontamination and safety protocols.

Dedication to Protection

AiroTect is dedicated to protecting our most valuable assets at home and on the front lines. We are revolutionizing the screening and quantification process for chemical vapor exposures including hazardous gases and volatile/semi-volatile organics with advanced breakthroughs in diffusive sampling technology. AiroTect’s Operations Manager, Michael Teicheira, spearheaded an air monitoring study on firefighters who do not traditionally wear SBCAs. These subjects including engineers/drivers operating pump panels while on-scene, officers running incident command, fire investigators during mop-up and investigations, and wildland firefighters as a whole. Most past studies have focused heavily on firefighters actively wearing SCBAs while fighting structure fires, which does not represent the firefighting industry as a whole.

Study Breakdown

Twenty-one XCel+ Passive Vapor Sampling Badges manufactured by XploSafe/AiroTect were sampled by several ISO Class 1 and ISO Class 4 fire departments during active fires and post-incident to match distinguishable TD-GS/MS peaks against the NIST database of known chemicals. XploSafe’s analytical laboratory conducted a broad scan analysis using thermal desorption coupled with a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (TD-GS/MS) to match spectral peaks against 75 validated high-interest chemicals from the EPA TO-15/17 toxic chemical lists. The analysts were looking for distinguishable peaks (greater than 50,000 counts) that could be matched to the NIST database at over 75% confidence. The badges were worn for as little as 15 minutes and as long as 8 hours. Additional badges were placed in bunkhouses and fire apparatuses for up to 24 hours after the fires.

Results

After the badges were collected and analyzed, the top 15-25 peaks from each scene were charted. Several hazardous chemicals such as Acrolein, Benzene, 1,4-Dioxane, Phenol, and 3-methyldecane were detected at dangerous levels, with some (namely acrolein) over the OSHA PEL and NIOSH exposure limits. It was especially noted that similar chemical exposure levels were found on the badges of fire investigators and on the badges of the first on-scene firefighters who conducted the initial suppression of the active fire. Many chemical levels, like 1,4-dioxane, were higher for the investigator while conducting a post-fire investigation than any other firefighters who actively fought fire on scene. This increase in chemicals could be due to gas build-up and the natural off-gassing that occurs from the hot building materials once combustion has ended and the chemicals are no longer being burnt off in flames. Significant levels of exposure were also noted in fire engines and locker rooms in the days following a major fire event, with chemical exposure levels sitting somewhere around 1/3rd as high as during active firefighting efforts.

Life-saving Changes

The findings suggested that PPE protocols and decontamination practices should be re-evaluated. While on-scene decontamination practices are important, they do not completely halt exposures. Chemicals do not only remain at the scene. Approximately 25% (by concentration) of the active fire chemicals were present in the trucks and locker rooms following the incident. To avoid constant low-level exposures, decontamination of both gear and truck cabs should be consistently done after each incident. Occasional decontamination of locker rooms would add an extra layer of precaution to aid in reducing chemical exposure. Additionally, preliminary results suggest that it would be recommended to add an SCBA, forced air ventilation system, or a multi-gas analyzer to the uniforms of fire investigators and all on-scene personnel present even after the initial fire knock-down has occurred.

Product and Materials

To purchase the XCel+ Passive Dosimeter Badge for diffusive air monitoring, visit www.airotect.com or call us at (405) 344-5720 or email us at info@airotect.com! To receive a copy of our full Firefighter VOC Exposure presentation from the 2023 AIHce Conference and Expo in Phoenix, Arizona, email us at info@airotect.com!

Our products are proudly developed and manufactured in the USA, and every purchase helps to support further research into protecting our firefighters and other first responders!

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For Product, Sales or Company Information please contact:

Shoaib Shaikh

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shoaib@xplosafe.com
Office: 405-334-5720
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