Evaluation of Firefighter Exposure to Wood Smoke during Training Exercises at Burn Houses
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Smoke from wood-fueled fires is one of the most common hazards encountered by firefighters worldwide. Wood smoke is complex in nature and contains numerous compounds, including methoxyphenols (MPs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), some of which are carcinogenic. Chronic exposure to wood smoke can lead to adverse health outcomes, including respiratory infections, impaired lung function, cardiac infarctions, and cancers. At training exercises held in burn houses at four fire departments across Ontario, air samples, skin wipes, and urine specimens from a cohort of firefighters (n = 28) were collected prior to and after exposure. Wood was the primary fuel used in these training exercises. Air samples showed that MP concentrations were on average 5-fold greater than those of PAHs. Skin wipe samples acquired from multiple body sites of firefighters indicated whole-body smoke exposure. A suite of MPs (methyl-, ethyl-, and propylsyringol) and deconjugated PAH metabolites (hydroxynaphthalene, hydroxyfluorene, hydroxyphenanthrene, and their isomers) were found to be sensitive markers of smoke exposure in urine. Creatinine-normalized levels of these markers were significantly elevated (p < 0.05) in 24 h postexposure urine despite large between-subject variations that were dependent on the specific operational roles of firefighters while using personal protective equipment. This work offers deeper insight into potential health risk from smoke exposure that is needed for translation of better mitigation policies, including improved equipment to reduce direct skin absorption and standardized hygiene practices implemented at different regional fire services.
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