Incident command post exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and particulate matter during a wildfire

J Occup Environ Hyg. 2019 Nov;16(11):735-744. doi: 10.1080/15459624.2019.1657579. Epub 2019 Sep 23.


Wildland firefighters engaged in fire suppression activities are often exposed to hazardous air pollutants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and particulate matter (PM2.5) during wildfires with no respiratory protection. Although the most significant exposures to smoke likely occur on the fireline, wildland firefighters may also be exposed at the incident command post (ICP), an area designated for wildfire suppression support operations. Our objective was to characterize exposures of PAHs and PM2.5 near an ICP during a wildfire event in California. We collected area air samples for PAHs and PM2.5, during the first 12 days of a wildfire event. PAH area air samples were actively collected in 12-hr shifts (day and night) using XAD4-coated quartz fiber filters and XAD2 sorbent tubes and analyzed for 17 individual PAHs. Hourly area PM2.5 concentrations were measured with an Environmental Beta Attenuation Monitor. Most PAH concentrations generally had similar concentrations during the day and night. PM2.5 concentrations were higher during the day, due to increased fire activity, than at night. The highest concentrations of the 17 PAHs measured were for naphthalene, phenanthrene, and retene. The location of an ICP may be a critical factor in reducing these potential exposures to firefighters during wildfire events. Additionally, exposures could be reduced by utilizing clean air tents or sleeping trailers with HEPA filtration or setting up smaller camps in less smokey areas closer to the fireline for firefighters. Although measured exposures to PAHs for firefighters from smoke are lower at an ICP, these exposures still contribute to the overall cumulative work exposures.

Keywords: Firefighters; PAHs; incident command post; particulate matter; wildfire.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Firefighters
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Particulate Matter / analysis*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Smoke / analysis
  • Wildfires


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Particulate Matter
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Smoke