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Epidemiologic Notes and Reports Noise-Induced Hearing Loss in Fire Fighters -- New York

In October 1980, the International Association of Fire Fighters asked the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to evaluate reported hearing loss from noise exposure in fire-fighting operations at the Newburgh Fire Department, Newburgh, New York. Audiometric evaluation of 53 of the 55 full-time fire fighters by an outside consultant had detected hearing losses.

In February 1981, NIOSH surveyed noise exposures of the fire asked the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to evaluate reported hearing loss from noise exposure in fire-fighting operations at the Newburgh Fire Department, Newburgh, New York. Audiometric evaluation of 53 of the 55 full-time fire fighters by an outside consultant had detected hearing losses.

In February 1981, NIOSH surveyed noise exposures of the fire fighters at this department (1). Noise levels emitted by sirens and fire engines during simulated response calls ranged from 99 dBA* to 116 dBA at various riding positions on the vehicles; measurements were obtained by using a General Radio 1982 sound level meter.** These were later taped and analyzed. The 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) noise exposures of 16 fire fighters during their regular activities over a 2-day period ranged from 62.8 dBA to 85.3 dBA;*** these noise measurements were obtained by using Metrosonics dB-301/562 Metrologger dosimeters.

In June 1981, using Gradson-Stadler 1703 B self-recording audiometers, NIOSH conducted audiometric evaluations of 54 of these fire fighters. An average hearing loss of 61.8 decibels at 6000 Hz was found for the five fire fighters over 50 years of age, each of whom had nearly 30 years of service. Non-occupational causes of high-frequency hearing loss were not identified. *Decibels measured on the A-weighting scale. **Use of trade names is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the Centers for Disease Control or the Public Health Service. ***NIOSH currently recommends a maximum 85 dBA level for an 8-hour TWA noise exposure.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: The NIOSH evaluation verified the high-frequency hearing losses reported in the initial audiometric evaluation of these fire fighters. The NIOSH environmental survey, in which personal noise dosimeters were used, was conducted on 2 days when no fires and two false alarms occurred; however, simulated runs were made to study the noise intensities normally encountered on the fire vehicles. On the basis of the limited noise survey and the 5-year average number of fire calls in a 40-hour workweek, these fire fighters would average less than 1.5 hours per week of exposure to noise in the range of 99 dBA to 116 dBA. Based on an extension of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration 8-hour TWA noise exposure limit of 90 dBA to a 24-hour TWA of 82 dBA, only two of the 16 fire fighters' 8-hour TWA exposures exceeded the 24-hour exposure limit. Even though the TWA noise exposures do not seem great enough to cause the observed hearing losses, the noise intensities during the simulated and false-alarm runs were high. Noise was not measured during actual fire fighting, but the audiograms point to noise overexposure.

A similar study of hearing loss in fire fighters, conducted at the Los Angeles City Fire Department (2,3), produced results comparable to those of the NIOSH study. The noise levels reported in Los Angeles were more intense than those found in Newburgh; differences in the measurement techniques used in the two surveys may account for these discrepancies. Additional studies are planned.

References

  1. Tubbs R, Flesch J. Health hazard evaluation--Newburgh, New York. (HETA report no. 81-059-1045). Cincinnati, Ohio: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1982.

  2. Reischl U, Hanks TG, Reischl P. Occupational related fire fighter hearing loss. Am Ind Hyg Assoc J 1981;42:656--62.

  3. Reischl U, Bair HS Jr, Reischl P. Fire fighter noise exposure. Am Ind Hyg Assoc J 1979;40:482-9.

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