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Date last updated: Friday, December 19, 15:21 PST


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Recognize Risk Factors

By Michael Petroff

Exposures occur in several forms and by several routes. Respiratory exposures occur because firefighters remove breathing apparatus without knowing airborne hazards exist. Many departments use carbon monoxide levels as an indicator of the need for respiratory protection.

Tests for other contaminants are not normally carried out at fire scenes. The report further states that firefighters are exposed to "particulates, gasses and mists, heavy metals, carcinogenic chemicals, asbestos, and other substances with toxic effects." Particulate matter includes pulverized concrete, fiberglass and soot. Diesel soot is a common contaminant found in stations that do not have exhaust removal systems.

All skin cancers, melanoma, leukemia, and cancer of the brain, rectum, buccal cavity and oral pharynx, stomach and colon are all possibly associated with firefighting, according to the study.

The recommendations on risk reduction include the increased use of breathing apparatus, and reducing exposure to skin contaminants, such as soot, by showering thoroughly after fires. The report also suggests decontamination of turnout gear after incidents.

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