Jump to main content
Jump to site search

Issue 3, 2011
Previous Article Next Article

Assessing the risk to firefighters from chemical vapors and gases during vehicle fire suppression

Author affiliations

Abstract

Despite the frequent occurrence of vehicle fires, very few studies investigating firefighters' potential inhalation exposures during vehicle fire suppression have been conducted. In this paper, we present an assessment of firefighters' health risk from vehicle fire suppression that accounts for the mixture of gases and vapors likely to be found in these fires. Summa canisters were used to collect emissions from the engine and cabin fires of a single vehicle and were analyzed for 75 volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Firefighters' breathing zone concentrations (BZCs) of aromatic hydrocarbons, aldehydes, isocyanates, and carbon monoxide were measured during the suppression of three vehicle fires. The Summa canister and BZC data were used to develop a simple model for predicting BZCs for the compounds that were not measured in the firefighters' breathing zones. Hazard quotients (HQs) were calculated by dividing the predicted and measured BZCs by the most conservative short-term exposure limits (STELs) or ceiling limits. Hazard indices (HIs) were determined by adding HQs for compounds grouped by the target organ for acute health effects. Any HIs above unity represented unacceptable risks. According to this mixture analysis, the estimated 95th percentile of the exposure distribution for the study population represents ≥9.2 times the acceptable level of risk to the respiratory tract and eyes. Furthermore, chemicals known or reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens contributed to >45% of these HIs. While STELs are not usually based on carcinogenicity, maintaining exposures below STELs may protect individuals from the biological stress that could result from short-term exposures to carcinogens over time. Although vehicle fires are suppressed quickly (<10 min), this assessment suggests that firefighters have the potential to be overexposed to acute toxins during vehicle fire suppression and should therefore wear self-contained breathing apparatus at all times during vehicle fire response.

Graphical abstract: Assessing the risk to firefighters from chemical vapors and gases during vehicle fire suppression

Back to tab navigation

Supplementary files

Publication details

The article was received on 22 Oct 2010, accepted on 17 Dec 2010 and first published on 28 Jan 2011


Article type: Paper
DOI: 10.1039/C0EM00591F
Citation: J. Environ. Monit., 2011,13, 536-543
  •   Request permissions

    Assessing the risk to firefighters from chemical vapors and gases during vehicle fire suppression

    K. W. Fent and D. E. Evans, J. Environ. Monit., 2011, 13, 536
    DOI: 10.1039/C0EM00591F

Search articles by author

Spotlight

Advertisements