Volatile Organic Compounds Off-gassing from Firefighters' Personal Protective Equipment Ensembles after Use.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Firefighters' personal protective equipment (PPE) ensembles will become contaminated with various compounds during firefighting. Some of these compounds will off-gas following a response, which could result in inhalation exposure. This study was conducted to determine the magnitude and composition of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) generated during controlled structure burns that subsequently off-gassed from the firefighters' PPE, and were systemically absorbed and exhaled in firefighters' breath. Three crews of five firefighters performed entry, suppression, and overhaul during a controlled burn. We used evacuated canisters to sample air inside the burn structure during active fire and overhaul. After each burn, we placed PPE from two firefighters inside clean enclosures and sampled the air using evacuated canisters over 15 min. Firefighters' exhaled breath was collected ∼1 hr before and 4-14 min after each burn. Using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, the evacuated canister samples were analyzed for 64 VOCs and the exhaled breath samples were analyzed for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and styrene (BTEXS). Fourteen of the same VOCs were detected off-gassing from PPE in 50% or more of the samples. Compared to background levels, we measured >5 fold increases in mean off-gas concentrations of styrene, benzene, 1,4-dichlorobenzene, acetone, and cyclohexane. Several of the compounds detected off-gassing from PPE were also measured at concentrations above background during active fire and overhaul, including benzene, propene, and styrene. The overhaul and off-gas air concentrations were well below applicable short-term occupational exposure limits. Compared to pre-burn levels, we measured >2 fold increases in mean breath concentrations of benzene, toluene, and styrene after the burns. Air concentrations of BTEXS measured off-gassing from firefighters' used PPE and in firefighters' post-burn exhaled breath were significantly correlated. The firefighters may have absorbed BTEXS through both the dermal route (during firefighting) and inhalation route (from off-gassing PPE after firefighting). Firefighters should be made aware of the potential for inhalation exposure when doffing and traveling in confined vehicles with contaminated PPE and take measures to minimize this exposure pathway.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Fent, KW; Evans, DE; Booher, D; Pleil, JD; Stiegel, MA; Horn, GP; Dalton, J

Published Date

  • January 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 12 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 404 - 414

PubMed ID

  • 25751596

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1545-9632

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1545-9624

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1080/15459624.2015.1025135


  • eng