Health hazard evaluation report: HETA-2004-0368-3030, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Austin, Texas.
On August 19, 2004, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) received a request from an agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regarding potential exposures during fire scene investigations. Concerns were raised about the presence of contamination on uniforms upon completion of an investigation, removal of the contamination following home laundering, and contamination of home washing machines from contaminated uniforms. At the time of the request, employees had not reported health effects associated with chemical exposures during fire scene investigations. In response to the request, a study protocol was developed using polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as a marker for contamination. The goals of the study were to determine whether PAHs were present in clothing worn at a fire scene and if home laundering would remove such contaminants from the ATF uniform. Results from the study showed that PAHs were present at fire scenes; however, contamination of a washing machine/dryer used by an ATF fire scene investigator to launder his/her uniform is unlikely. The contamination of subsequent loads of laundry is also unlikely. However, there is a potential for contamination of other clothing laundered with soiled uniforms. Due to the number of uncontrolled variables in this study, definitive conclusions cannot be made as to whether a significant amount of PAH contamination was removed during the laundering of soiled field uniforms. Due to the potential for exposure to PAHs, some of which may be carcinogenic, NIOSH investigators recommend the use of protective clothing for ATF agents involved in fire scene investigation. To reduce the potential for carrying these contaminants home, disposable coveralls should be worn at the fire scene then discarded when the investigation is finished or a professional laundry service should be used to launder the uniforms currently worn by fire scene investigators.