NIOSH Evaluates Diesel Exhaust Exposures at Fire Stations

Published July 5, 2017

Staff from NIOSH’s Health Hazard Evaluation (HHE) Program recently responded to firefighters’ concerns about potential exposures to diesel exhaust from firefighting apparatus at three urban fire stations. The firefighters, who were all employees of the same city fire department, expressed concern about the possibility of diesel exhaust entering living and sleeping areas of the fire stations, and about diesel exhaust exposures in the apparatus bay during start-up and maintenance. NIOSH personnel visited the three stations and collected air samples for elemental carbon, which is a marker of diesel exhaust. They also measured 1-nitropyrene, another chemical found in diesel exhaust, as well as carbon monoxide, airborne particle count, and airborne particle size. Agency staff also evaluated airflow patterns and reviewed department injury and illness logs.

Low levels of diesel exhaust—concentrations below recommended limits—were found in the living areas and apparatus bays at all three of the fire stations visited by NIOSH staff. No 1-nitropyrene was found, and particle concentrations were low for all particle size ranges that were measured. Carbon monoxide levels were low in both the living quarters and in the apparatus bays. According to the NIOSH report, with the exception of one area in one of the three stations, air flowed from the living and sleeping quarters into the apparatus bays—a setup that is preferred for keeping chemical exposures low.

Although exposures were low, the authors of the report recommend efforts to further reduce exposures due to the potential health risks associated with exposures to diesel exhaust. The NIOSH report urges the fire department to have the apparatus bay exhaust fans automatically turn on whenever the bay doors are opened and closed. Other recommendations included moving stored turnout gear away from apparatus exhaust pipes and moving exercise equipment out of the apparatus bays.

Further details and recommendations from the NIOSH evaluation are available in an HHE report (PDF).