Biomonitoring of fire services personnel

Fire services personnel are frequently exposed to hazardous situations when fighting fires. These personnel should be protected and able to behave in such a way that harmful – not to say carcinogenic – effects upon them are prevented. This is attained by personal protective equipment (PPE) and by organizational measures. Personal hygiene, by which hazardous substances are prevented from being transferred from contaminated clothing to the body, is also relevant in this context. The use of suitable PPE cannot always protect fire services personnel against contact with the hazardous substances, however. Smoke from fires and carcinogenic substances contained within it, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, may be deposited on the skin even where protective clothing is worn. The health risk presented by the possible uptake of hazardous substances through the skin during a firefighting operation has not yet been adequately clarified.

In order to obtain reliable data on this aspect, the IPA is using biomonitoring to study the exposure of fire services personnel to carcinogenic substances in typical real-case fire situations. The project is being conducted in conjunction with the DGUV, the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the DGUV (IFA), several of the German Social Accident Insurance Institutions, full-time fire services, and the DFV, the German fire service association. The overriding objective of the project is to develop strategies for primary prevention of the exposure of fire services personnel to carcinogenic substances. Since the hazardous substances may be taken up not only via the lung but also through the skin, hygiene is one of the foci of the project. The results are to deliver specific indications of how fire services personnel can protect themselves or can be protected. In the course of the study, biomonitoring is being used to measure the uptake of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in up to 250 fire services personnel from two fire services during firefighting operations. The exposure of the skin is recorded on a subset of the study participants by special cotton underwear worn below the protective clothing. This is to determine where ingress points for the smoke from the fire exist in the protective clothing, what parts of the body are particularly exposed, and where soot is most typically deposited.