Urinary 1-hydroxypyrene and Skin Contamination in Firefighters Deployed to the Fort McMurray Fire

Ann Work Expo Health. 2019 Apr 19;63(4):448-458. doi: 10.1093/annweh/wxz006.


Background: In May 2016, firefighters from the province of Alberta, Canada deployed to a fire that engulfed the urban area of Fort McMurray. During the first days of the fire, firefighters experienced heavy smoke exposures during greatly extended work shifts. Urinary samples were collected post-deployment from three fire services for estimation of 1-hydroxypyrene (1-HP) concentration, reflecting exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), to determine the effects of respiratory protective equipment (RPE) and skin hygiene in reducing internal dose.

Methods: Urine samples from one fire service (n = 62) were analyzed for 1-HP by two laboratories, using different assays (LC-MS/MS: GC-MS): remaining samples were analyzed just by LC-MS/MS. A Skin Exposure Mitigation Index (SEMI) was computed from questions on opportunities for changing clothing, showering, and washing during breaks. Regression analyses, using 1-HP ng/g creatinine as the dependent variable, assessed the effect of RPE and skin factors on PAH absorption, allowing for environmental exposure and potential confounders. Stratification identified key groups with equal delay in sample collection.

Results: 1-HP was detected in 71.0% of 62 samples by LC-MS/MS and 98.4% by GC-MS, with good mutual agreement between the methods. In 171 post-fire samples, 1-HP corrected for creatinine was related to current cigarette smoking and recent barbeque. Among those with samples collected within 48 h, urinary 1-HP was correlated with estimated exposure(r = 0.53, P < 0.001). In those with only one rotation before urine sample collection, no effect was seen of RPE use but I-HP was significantly lower (P = 0.003) in those with those with a high score on the SEMI scale, indicating better access to factors mitigating skin absorption.

Conclusion: Skin exposure to PAHs is an important route of absorption in firefighters, which can be mitigated by good skin hygiene.

Keywords: 1-hydroxypyrene; firefighter; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; skin absorption.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / urine*
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Female
  • Firefighters*
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Hygiene
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / adverse effects*
  • Protective Clothing
  • Pyrenes / urine*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Skin / chemistry*
  • Skin Absorption
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry
  • Young Adult


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Pyrenes
  • 1-hydroxypyrene