Air Toxics Exposure and Management

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Previously there was little knowledge of bushfire firefighters’ exposure to such toxic air pollutants as carbon monoxide, respirable particles, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and dioxins.

This project tackled this important occupational health and safety issue by identifying key toxic pollutants, evaluated their concentration and provided the tools and techniques to measure, evaluate and control the exposure of firefighters (and to some extent communities) to these substances. The main researchers were Project Leader Dr Mick Meyer and Dr Fabienne Reisen, both of CSIRO.

The outcomes of the research, including a detailed Reference Guide and a Field Guide to smoke exposure management, have improved the management of air toxics exposures of Australian bushfire firefighters. The aim of the guide is to provide advice to fire line supervisors and managers on the fire ground so they can quickly recognise high exposure risk situations and undertake mitigation strategies so that their firefighters remain safe.

RMIT University student Dane Hansen conducted his PhD research on particulate matter, which has been linked to acute or chronic cardio-respiratory disease. It is also an eye and respiratory irritant. His research aimed to characterise the volatile organic components and heavy metals adsorbed to particulates generated in bushfires by looking at firefighter exposures in both the lab and in the field,and the differences between particles collected under different conditions.