Impact of Select PPE Design Elements and Repeated Laundering Journal Article Published in Journal of Occupational & Environmental Hygiene
Gavin Horn, UL FSRI
Responding to the U.S. fire service’s growing awareness of the potential health effects from occupational exposure to hazardous contaminants on the fireground, personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers and fire departments have developed improved means of firefighter protection, including more frequent laundering of PPE after exposures. While new PPE designs and the effect of laundering on those fabrics has been evaluated through laboratory testing, there are still concerns around the lack of full garment protection.
Impact of Select PPE Design Elements and Repeated Laundering in Firefighter Protection from Smoke Exposure summarizes the results from a pilot study to determine how repeated exposures and cleanings (laundering and on-scene decontamination) impacted the ingress of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and benzene contamination for different hood designs (traditional knit vs. particulate blocking) and turnout jacket closure systems (zipper vs. hook & dee) on stationary mannequins dressed in NFPA 1971 Standard on Protective Ensembles for Structural Fire Fighting and Proximity Fire Fighting compliant PPE.
Utilizing a Fireground Exposure Simulator (FES) prop that was designed to simulate fireground thermal and chemical environments, along with an air and/or filter-substrate sampling for PAHs and benzene, this pilot study tested the chemical protective capabilities of firefighting PPE of different designs after 40 cycles of smoke and heat exposures followed by cleaning/decontamination.
Important take home messages from this paper:
- Particulate-blocking hoods reduced PAHs reaching the mannequins’ necks by more than 30% compared to knit hoods. However, particulate-blocking hoods did not completely eliminate the presence of PAHs in the neck region of the mannequins.
- Median PAH concentrations under hook & dee style closures were 1.5-fold higher than zippered closures, while benzene was shown to readily breakthrough the turnout gear irrespective of the style of jacket closure.
- The effect of laundering and on-scene decontamination on the chemical-protective properties of the turnout gear appeared to depend on the type of combustion products evaluated in this study. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.
This manuscript is derived from our PPE Cleaning study, a component of the larger Cardiovascular & Chemical Exposure Risks in Today’s Fire Service project. It also provides data from PPE design elements tested in the Firefighter Exposure Simulator (FES) props. For more information on the FES, read the “Development of Fireground Exposure Simulator (FES) Prop for PPE Testing and Evaluation” article.
UL FSRI partnered with NIOSH, Globe fire suits (now MSA), and IFSI to conduct this research. Funding for this project was provided by the Department of Homeland Security Fire Prevention and Safety Grant #EMW-2015-FP-00646.
About the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Hygiene:
The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene ( JOEH ) is a joint publication of the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA®) and ACGIH®. The JOEH is a peer-reviewed journal devoted to enhancing the knowledge and practice of occupational and environmental hygiene and safety by widely disseminating research articles and applied studies of the highest quality.
The JOEH provides a written medium for the communication of ideas, methods, processes, and research in core and emerging areas of occupational and environmental hygiene. Core domains include, but are not limited to: exposure assessment, control strategies, ergonomics, and risk analysis. Emerging domains include, but are not limited to: sensor technology, emergency preparedness and response, changing workforce, and management and analysis of “big” data.