Health & Safety

Firefighters’ and Instructors’ Absorption of PAHs and Benzene During Training Exercises

Introduction

Training fires may constitute a major portion of some firefighters’ occupational exposures to smoke. However, the magnitude and composition of those exposures are not well understood and may vary by the type of training scenario and fuels.

 

Objectives

To understand how structure fire training contributes to firefighters’ and instructors’ select chemical exposures, we conducted biological monitoring during exercises involving combustion of pallet and straw and oriented strand board (OSB) or the use of simulated smoke.

 

Methods

Urine was analyzed for metabolites of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and breath was analyzed for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene.

 

Results

Median concentrations of nearly all PAH metabolites in urine increased from pre-to 3-hr post-training for each scenario and were highest for OSB, followed by pallet and straw, and then simulated smoke. For instructors who supervised three trainings per day, median concentrations increased at each collection. A single day of OSB exercises led to a 30-fold increase in 1-hydroxypyrene for instructors, culminating in a median end-of-shift concentration 3.5-fold greater than median levels measured from firefighters in a previous controlled-residential fire study. Breath concentrations of benzene increased 2 to 7-fold immediately after the training exercises (with the exception of simulated smoke training). Exposures were highest for the OSB scenario and instructors accumulated PAHs with repeated daily exercises.

 

Conclusions

Dermal absorption likely contributed to the biological levels as the respiratory route was well protected. Training academies should consider exposure risks as well as instructional objectives when selecting training exercises.

 

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