Health Beat-Diesel Exhaust and Your Health, Part 2

By Mary Jane Dittmar
Fire Engineering and

Following are some of the actions you can take to reduce exposure to diesel fumes and the health hazards they pose.
Click here to view Part 1

Since diesel exhaust presents some carcinogenic risk, your exposure should be minimized. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1500, Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program-1992, states: “Fire stations shall be designed and provided with provisions to ventilate exhaust emissions from fire apparatus to prevent exposure to firefighters and contamination of living and sleeping areas.” 1

Among the most simple things you can do to reduce your risk is to avoid eating or smoking in areas where you are likely to be exposed to diesel fumes and to wash your hands and face before drinking, eating, or leaving work.2

Controlling Exposure
The presence of soot on the station’s walls and other surfaces indicates that diesel fumes are not being adequately controlled.

One or more of the following methods may have to be used to control diesel exhaust emissions in your fire station:

  • Open garage doors before starting engines. Do not allow vehicles to idle in the station. (1)
  • Instruct all drivers to keep vehicular operation to an absolute minimum in the station. (1)
  • Leave garage doors open for at least 10 minutes after operating vehicles when weather permits. (1)
  • Keep doors leading from the garage to other areas of the fire station closed whenever possible. Consider installing an automatic door-closing device. (1)
  • Add weather stripping (or similar material) to all doors leading from the garage to stairwells, hose towers, living quarters, the kitchen, and offices, to prevent diesel exhaust infiltration. (1)
  • Permanently seal all pole holes that are not essential. Use flexible covers with airtight seals for active pole holes. An alternative would be to install airtight booths around the poles. (1)
  • Maintain living quarters and office areas under positive pressure to reduce diesel exhaust infiltration. (1)
  • Note the color of the smoke being emitted by the diesel-fueled apparatus. Blue smoke, which is mainly oil and unburned fuel, for example, indicates a poorly serviced or tuned engine. Black smoke, which consists of soot, oil, and unburned fuel, indicates a mechanical fault with the engine. If you see blue or black smoke coming from the apparatus/vehicles, report it immediately so that the conditions responsible can be promptly corrected. (White smoke, which consists of water droplets and unburned fuel, is produced when a cold engine is started; it disappears as the engine warms up. The white smoke produced by older engines has a sharp smell and may irritate your upper respiratory system. (2)
  • Place additives in the diesel fuel tank to combat water, sludge, and algae. (1)
  • Change injectors that pose continual problems such as plugging and high emissions. Do that after all sources of fuel contamination have been eliminated. (1)
  • When selecting engines, make mechanical performance and emissions data part of your primary criteria.

Ventilation Systems (1)
Installing a ventilation system can help to control exhaust. The two most common types of systems are local and dilution. Keep the following in mind when using these systems.

  • Local. Connect an exhaust filter hose system to the truck’s tailpipe. Keep it on the tailpipe until the truck has left the station. Supply make-up air to replace the exhausted air. Position the exhaust opening so that the exhaust cannot reenter through windows or fresh air intakes.
  • Dilution. Since hot exhaust emissions rise, position all exhaust fans near the ceiling and have them exhaust to the outside. The volume of exhaust emissions generated depends on the number of trucks operated in the fire station and the trucks’ horsepower. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists recommends dilution ventilation rates of 100 cubic feet per minute (cfm) per horsepower for diesel engines that are idling. Make-up air must be supplied to replace exhausted air. Position the exhaust opening so that exhaust cannot reenter through windows or fresh air intakes.

Filter Systems
High-efficiency filter systems can be used to filter out particulates emitted from diesel engines. One system, consisting of a filter, a diverter unit, and an electronic control module, is self-contained on the vehicle, which makes the system operable at any time regardless of the vehicle’s location.

You can protect your health by being aware of the dangers diesel fumes pose, being alert to conditions that increase your hazards, and reporting and having corrected equipment and other problems that increase emissions in the station or allow the fumes to enter living or office areas in the fire station. As is true for so many other issues such as FIRE Act Funding and presumption legislation, you can help protect yourself by contacting your legislators, making them aware of your concerns and asking that they support legislation to reduce the levels of diesel emissions permitted in the environment and in your work environment.


  1. “Diesel Exhaust in Fire Stations,” Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health Program, New Jersey Department of Health, May 1994.
  2. “Diesel Engine Exhaust Emission,” Health & Safety Executive, Health and Safety Commission (HSC), Great Britain,

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