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Assessment of Ambient Exposures Firefighters Encounter While at the Fire Station: An Exploratory Study

Sparer, Emily H. ScD; Prendergast, Daniel P. MS; Apell, Jennifer N. MEng; Bartzak, Madeleine R. RN, MPH; Wagner, Gregory R. MD; Adamkiewicz, Gary PhD; Hart, Jaime E. ScD; Sorensen, Glorian PhD, MPH

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: October 2017 - Volume 59 - Issue 10 - p 1017–1023
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000001114

Objective: Firefighters are at an increased risk for many types of cancer. Although most studies on this topic focus on exposures encountered while fighting fires, exposures at the fire station are also cause for concern. This pilot study aimed to describe air quality within a few fire stations in and around Boston, Massachusetts, and to investigate physical and organizational factors that may influence levels of contaminants in stations.

Methods: Air sampling of particulate matter less than 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5) and particle-bound polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was completed at four fire stations in Spring, 2016. Sampling occurred in the kitchen, truck bay, and just outside the station. Data were analyzed to assess differences between and within stations. Interviews (n =7) were conducted with officers at each station to explore health and safety-related organizational policies and practices. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed for thematic content.

Results: At each station, levels of contaminants were higher in the truck bays than either the outdoors or kitchen, and varied the most throughout the day. The station with the highest exposures in the truck bay had the lowest levels in the kitchen, which was possibly explained by new building materials and effective separation between building zones. The age and layout of the stations appeared to determine the extent to which policies favoring exhaust capture were implemented.

Conclusion: Levels of PM2.5 and PAH inside fire stations may contribute to firefighter cancer risk. Through understanding contaminant variability, we can begin to design and test interventions that improve cancer prevention.

Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts (Drs Sparer, Sorensen); Center for Community-Based Research, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, Massachusetts (Drs Sparer, Sorensen); Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Mr Prendergast, Mr Apell); MetroWest Medical Center, Framingham, Massacusetts (Bartzak); Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts (Bartzak, Drs Wagner, Adamkiewicz, Hart); Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (Dr Hart).

Address correspondence to: Emily H. Sparer, ScD, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Kresge Building, Boston, MA 02115 (

This investigation was made possible by Grant No. T42 OH008416 and 5U19 OH008861 from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and NIH grants 3R25CA057711 and P30 ES000002.

The authors have no conflicts of interest.

Copyright © 2017 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine