USDA Forest Service

Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team


Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team
Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory

400 N 34th Street, Suite 201
Seattle, WA 98103

(206) 732-7800

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A Screening-Level Assessment of the Health Risks of Chronic Smoke Exposure for Wildland Firefighters

A screening health risk assessment was performed to assess the upper-bound risks of cancer and noncancer adverse health effects among wildland firefighters performing wildfire suppression and prescribed burn management. Of the hundreds of chemicals in wildland fire smoke, we identified 15 substances of potential concern from the standpoints of concentration and toxicology; these included aldehydes, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, benzene, and respirable particulate matter. Data defining daily exposures to smoke at prescribed burns and wildfires, potential days of exposure in a year, and career lengths were used to estimate average and reasonable maxim um career inhalation exposures to these substances. Of the 15 substances in smoke that were evaluated, only benzene and formaldehyde posed a cancer risk greater than I per million, while only acrolein and respirable particulate matter exposures resulted in hazard indices greater than 1.0. The estimated upper-bound cancer risks ranged from 1.4 to 220 excess cancers per million, and noncancer hazard indices ranged from 9 to 360, depending on the exposure group. These values only indicate the likelihood of adverse health effects, not whether they will or will not occur. The risk assessment process narrows the field of substances that deserve further assessment, and the hazards identified by risk assessment generally agree with those identified as a concern in occupational exposure assessments.

Booze, Thomas F.; Reinhardt, Timothy E; Quiring, Sharon J.; Ottmar, Roger D. 2004. A screening-level assessment of the health risks of chronic smoke exposure for wildland firefighters. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. 1:296-306


U.S. Forest Service - PNW- FERA
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:18:40 CST

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