PURPOSE: Forest fires are a major emission source of air pollutants to the atmosphere.The current state of knowledge about the potential health impacts on the affected communities and, in particular, in the personnel involved in firefighting operations is however scarce. Portugal is a country at high risk for forest fires, and in recent years has been severely affected.The main objective of the FUMEXP project is the analysis of the potential effects of forest fire smoke emissions on firemen health.
METHODS: FUMEXP activities involved an extensive number of measurements of environmental and individual exposure to smoke pollutants and medical parameters for a group of firefighters along wild fires and experimental field burnings. During 2008, 2009 and 2010, a group of 18 firefighters was tested before and after firefighting, and their exhaled nitric oxide (eNO), carbon monoxide (CO) and % carboxy-haemoglobin were evaluated.A sub-group of 10 firefighters carried portable devices to assess GPS positioning, particulate matter (PM 2,5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), volatile organic compounds (VOC), methane, O2 and carbon monoxide (CO), during experimental forest fires and also at real situations along the fire season.
RESULTS: Exposure monitoring: Daily exposure averages of PM2.5 concentration values as high as 1,280 μ g.m-3 were monitored, well above the recommended limit of 25 μ g.m-3. In terms of CO, hourly averaged values higher than 73,000 μ g.m-3 were monitored (WHO recommendation< 30,000 μ g.m-3). The highest NO2 value was 4,670 μ g.m-3 (Exposure recommendation< 200 μ g.m-3). VOC’s were also high.Airway monitoring: there was a significant decrease (p< 0.05) on the eNO, and a very significant increase on exhaled CO (p< 0,001),pre and post firefighting.
CONCLUSION: This Project indicates that forest fire-fighting can expose individuals to very high concentrations of CO, VOCs, NO2 and PM2.5, with potential harmful effects on human health.
CLINICAL IMPLICATIONS: Forest fire smoke inhalation can cause acute and long term health effects on exposed professionals. Suggested measures include regular health evaluation, use of adequate protecting devices and individual monitoring devices, planning of fire-fighting shifts and modeling of exposure.
DISCLOSURE: Antonio Ferreira, No Financial Disclosure Information; No Product/Research Disclosure Information