NIOSH Report Addresses Overexposures in Firefighter Training

Published August 29, 2013

Firefighter trainers could be overexposed to several chemicals in smoke simulants used during training exercises, including mineral oil mist, diethylene glycol, and thermal decomposition products, according to a NIOSH health hazard evaluation (HHE) report released last week. NIOSH staff assessed chemical exposures at a fire department’s training tower after receiving a request from managers who were concerned about the potential health effects to firefighter trainers from exposure to mineral oil-based and glycol-based smoke simulants used during training exercises. According to the report, the smoke simulants are used to help train firefighters on proper fire-attack and victim-rescue techniques in low visibility conditions.

NIOSH’s HHE results showed that levels of mineral oil mist, diethylene glycol, formaldehyde, and acrolein in the air were above exposure limits during training exercises. Trainers could be overexposed to these compounds if they are not wearing respiratory protection and open the training room door to look inside, even if only for a short time. According to NIOSH, these exposures could cause eye and respiratory irritation or more serious respiratory effects if trainers are not adequately protected.

NIOSH recommends that trainers wear full-structural fire-fighting ensembles, including self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), at all times during or when preparing for training exercises that involve heat or fire. For exercises that do not involve heat or fire, the agency recommends that trainers wear NIOSH-approved full-facepiece air-purifying respirators with NIOSH-approved cartridge/canisters that are effective against oil-based aerosols and formaldehyde.

Read more in the HHE report. Other NIOSH HHE reports are available on the agency’s website.