Researchers: Firefighters absorb toxic chemical via skin

The University of Ottawa study suggests that the toxins still enter the body, despite the full turnout gear that firefighters use

By FireRescue1 Staff

OTTAWA, Canada — Researchers recently conducted a study that suggests firefighters are still absorbing toxic chemicals through their skin despite wearing full turnout gear.

A study conducted by University of Ottawa researchers found that firefighters had anywhere from three to more than five times the amount of toxins in their urine after battling a blaze than they did before.

The study, which involved collecting urine samples and wiping the skin and clothing of more than two dozen firefighters, suggests that the chemicals are entering the body from skin absorption.

"There's a relationship between firefighters' urinary PAH metabolite levels and the levels of PAHs on their skin, which leads us to suspect that dermal contact may be an important route of exposure," Jennifer Keir, an author on the study, said.

Ottawa Fire Department Captain Dave Matschke was named a co-author on the study and said the research is a “big step forward.”

"The evidence of absorption through the skin, particularly through the neck area, will help with the development of practices and technology to reduce that exposure,” Capt. Matschke said. “The next step is to continue research to see what kinds of practices and equipment work best at reducing and limiting absorption through the skin. Such work is crucial at a time when new materials are making fires more toxic than ever."


Researchers concluded that decontaminating skin immediately after a fire could help reduce the risk of cancer.

Another similar study recently conducted by the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, England, called upon the government to make stricter regulations about firefighters’ exposure to toxic gases.

“It is time for change. If this level of toxic exposure was found in the U.S. or Canada, government would immediately put measures in place to monitor the health of firefighters and address this,” lead researcher Anna Stec said.

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