Posted on 12/05/2016 in News 32 2016
Firefighter health and personal protective equipment

The US NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) has received a US$ 900 000 grant to study how cleaning affects contamination of firefighter personal protective equipment (PPE). This is part of ongoing work in the USA to reduce firefighter exposure to hazardous substances emitted during fires or present at intervention sites, and builds on the NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF) project on PPE cleaning validation.

This project aims to identify chemical and biological contaminants to which firefighters are exposed, to define PPE cleaning and sanitisation procedures and to establish appropriate fire service guidance, in order to probably update NFPA 1851 Standard on Selection, Care, and Maintenance of Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting. This important work on addressing firefighter exposure to hazardous substances is engaged parallel to the US NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) studies on cancer incidence and health of firefighters. The NIOSH 2013 epidemiological study of nearly 30 000 firefighters in 3 large US cities concluded that firefighters showed higher incidence of certain cancers, but not significantly different long-term mortality (see pinfa Newsletter n° 37). In particular malignant mesothelioma (asbestos related lung cancer) was elevated in firefighters. The study also points to possible but unconfirmed risks from PAHs, formaldehyde, benzene,1,3-butadiene and arsenic. A 2013 study of 16 400 firefighters in Nordic countries found similar results. A further NIOSH 2015 study on 19 300 firefighters confirmed these results, showing correlations between firefighter fire hours or number of fire runs and lung cancer or leukaemia. The issue of whether combustion by-product carcinogens are increased when materials are flame retarded (maybe by smouldering instead of burning, lower fire temperatures) or decreased (lower quantities of material burned) is very complex and further research is important. Overall, flame retardants will reduce emission of toxic smoke and soot by reducing the incidence and the extent of fires.

Update NFPA research, March 2016 “Cancer Threat Research combats the illness and disease hazards associated with firefighting”
NIOSH 2013 study: “Mortality and cancer incidence in a pooled cohort of US firefighters from San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia (1950− 2009)”, Daniels et al., Occup Environ Med 2014
NIOSH 2015 study “Exposure–response relationships for select cancer and non-cancer health outcomes in a cohort of US firefighters from San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia (1950–2009)”, Daniels et al., Occup Environ Med 2015
Nordic 2013 study: “Cancer incidence among firefighters: 45 years of follow-up in five Nordic countries”, Pukkala et al. Occup Environ Med 2014
NFPA FPRF firefighter “PPE cleaning validation” study summary and detail

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