Australian firefighters' exposure to air toxics during bushfire burns of autumn 2005 and 2006

Environ Int. 2009 Feb;35(2):342-52. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2008.08.011. Epub 2008 Oct 1.


Bushfire fighting is a hazardous occupation and control strategies are generally in place to minimize the hazards. However, little is known regarding firefighters' exposure to bushfire smoke, which is a complex mixture of toxic gases and particles. In Australia, during the prescribed burning season, firefighters are likely to be exposed on a regular basis to bushfire smoke, but whether these exposures affect health has yet to be determined. There are a number of factors that govern whether exposure to smoke will result in short-term and/or long-term health problems, including the concentrations of air pollutants within the breathing zone of the firefighter, the exposure duration, and health susceptibility of the individual, especially for pre-existing lung or heart disease. This paper presents measurements of firefighters' personal exposure to bushfire smoke, the first step within a risk management framework. It provides crucial information on the magnitude, extent and frequency of personal exposure to bushfire smoke for a range of typical scenarios. It is found that the primary air toxics of concern are carbon monoxide (CO), respirable particles and formaldehyde. Also, work activity is a major factor influencing exposure with exposure standards (both average and short-term limits) likely to be exceeded for activities such as suppression of spot fires, holding the fireline, and patrolling at the edge of a burn area in the urban-rural interface.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution*
  • Australia
  • Fires*
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure*
  • Occupational Exposure*