In the US, firefighters do not typically wear respiratory protection during overhaul activities, although fitting multi-gas or chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear cartridges to supplied air respirator facepieces has been proposed to reduce exposures. This work developed a method to evaluate the effectiveness of respirator cartridges in smoke that represents overhaul exposures to residential fires. Chamber and penetration concentrations were measured for 91 contaminants, including aldehydes, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, hydrocarbons and methyl isothiocyanate, along with total and respirable particulates. These laboratory tests generated concentrations in the range of field-reported exposures from overhaul activities. With limited tests, no styrene, benzene, acrolein or particulates were detected in air filtered by the respirator cartridge, yet other compounds were detected penetrating the respirator. Because of the complexity of smoke, an exposure index was determined for challenge and filtered air to determine the relative risk of the aggregate exposure to respiratory irritants. The primary contributors to the irritant exposure index in air filtered by the respirator were formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, with total hydrocarbons contributing only 1% to the irritant index. Respirator cartridges were adequate to minimize firefighter exposures to aggregate respiratory irritants if the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists ceiling limit for formaldehyde is used (0.3 ppm) but not if National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Recommended Exposure Limit (NIOSH REL) (0.1 ppm) is used, where three of five concentrations in filtered air exceeded the NIOSH REL. Respirator certification allows 1 ppm of formaldehyde to pass through it when challenged at 100 ppm, which may not adequately protect workers to current short-term exposure/ceiling limits. The method developed here recommends specific contaminants to measure in future work (formaldehyde, acrolein, acetaldehyde, naphthalene, benzene, total hydrocarbons as toluene and particulate mass) along with inclusion of additional irritant gases and hydrogen cyanide to fully evaluate whether air-purifying respirators reduce exposures to the aggregate gases/vapors present in overhaul activities.
- Respirator testing
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health