FDIC 2012: Nanotechnology and the Firefighter

The prevention of needless illness and line of duty deaths due to cancer caused by firefighting inspired the FDIC 2012 Wednesday morning classroom session, “Nanotechnology and the Firefighter,” presented by Captain Peter McBride of Ottawa (Canada) Fire Services.

The fire service has been successful in advocating for presumptive legislation with respect to occupational exposures and certain cancers. We know we get cancer from our work, yet we do not practice basic industrial hygiene! We document exposures in case we get cancer, McBride said, but we don’t put into place very simple rules and actions to limit our exposure to the toxic effects of fire after the incident! 

Nanotechnology and the use of nano-scale materials (one nanometer equals one-billionth of a meter) in consumer products and our built environment is becoming more common. 

The modes of exposure in the raw form, let alone those presented in a fire, are not well characterized or understood in terms of human health and environmental safety. Available research concerning the health effects of these materials is limited. However, regarding exposure, he said, “If you can smell it, you are breathing and eating it.”

The acute and chronic toxicity of manufactured nanomaterials is unknown but, some particle forms represent a severe health hazard, similar to asbestos-like exposures and disease processes.

Industrial hygiene practices have been implemented in Ottawa which involve decontamination of all fire service gear–bunker gear, SCBA, and helmets, McBride said.  

Firefighters respond to incidents where these materials are entrained in the smoke and must be proactive in the development of the necessary industrial hygiene for the health and life safety of responders and to ensure we don’t bring our work into our homes.    

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