Ultrafine air particles may increase firefighters' risk for heart disease

September 28, 2010

Firefighters are exposed to potentially dangerous levels of ultrafine particulates at the time they are least likely to wear protective breathing equipment. Because of this, researchers believe firefighters may face an increased risk for heart disease from exposures during the fire suppression process.

Coronary heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American , with many of these incidents taking place during or just after a firefighting incident. Researchers say exposure to these harmful ultrafine air particulates could predispose firefighters to heart disease—particularly in those at a less-than-optimal level of physical fitness or personal health.

In a study conducted collaboratively by the University of Cincinnati (UC), Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and the Chicago Fire Department, researchers have found that more than 70 percent of particulates released during fires are "ultrafine," invisible to the naked eye but able to be inhaled into the deepest compartments of the lung.

These findings were reported in the August 2010 issue of the . This study was the first to characterize the size and distribution of particulates, including those in the ultrafine range, during domestic fires.

For this study, researchers conducted a series of simulated house and automobile fires to measure the amount and specific characteristics of breathable particulates released during combustion and, consequently, what firefighters are exposed to during the course of their typical work environment.

takes place in two phases. In the first, known as "knockdown," firefighters squelch the flames with water to avoid fire spread. Workers are required to wear protective breathing equipment during this time to avoid exposure to smoke and toxic gases produced from the process. During "overhaul," the second phase, firefighters enter the structure and work to prevent re-ignition of partially burned material.

Researchers found that levels of ultrafine particulates were highest during overhaul, both in indoor and outdoor structure fires as well as automobile fires.

"Firefighters simply can't avoid inhaling these ultrafine particles when they are not wearing their protective breathing apparatus and, unfortunately, they routinely remove it during overhaul," explains Stuart Baxter, PhD, a collaborator in the study and UC professor of environmental health.

"Standard issue firefighting equipment weighs about 60 pounds, and under the exertion of firefighting the standard air tank only lasts about 20 minutes, so as soon as they determine the situation is safe—typically during overhaul—firefighters shed the protective gear," he adds. "Much of this ultrafine exposure could be avoided through equipment improvements and more rigid safety protocols for fire suppression—including additional workers who could be rotated in to reduce the physical and emotional burden of the job."

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Amber-tinted glasses may provide relief for insomnia

December 15, 2017
How do you unwind before bedtime? If your answer involves Facebook and Netflix, you are actively reducing your chance of a good night's sleep. And you are not alone: 90 percent of Americans use light-emitting electronic devices, ...

Warning labels can help reduce soda consumption and obesity, new study suggests

December 15, 2017
Labels that warn people about the risks of drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can lower obesity and overweight prevalence, suggests a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study.

Office work can be a pain in the neck

December 15, 2017
Neck pain is a common condition among office workers, but regular workplace exercises can prevent and reduce it, a University of Queensland study has found.

Regular takeaways linked to kids' heart disease and diabetes risk factors

December 14, 2017
Kids who regularly eat take-away meals may be boosting their risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence

December 14, 2017
When communities and police work together to deter urban violence, they can achieve better outcomes with fewer resources than when each works in isolation, a simulation model created by researchers at the UC Davis Violence ...

Your pets can't put your aging on 'paws'

December 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—In a finding that's sure to ruffle some fur and feathers, scientists report that having a pet doesn't fend off age-related declines in physical or mental health.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.