Chemical exposures may be responsible for firefighters' elevated incidences of cancer and cardiovascular disease. This study characterized semivolatile chemical contamination on firefighter personal protective clothing to assess exposure of firefighters to these chemicals. Samples from used firefighter protective clothing, including gloves, hood, and one coat wristlet, were extracted with methylene chloride and analyzed by EPA method 8270 for semivolatile contaminants, including 20 polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and 6 phthalate diesters. Twenty-two of the chemicals of interest were found on at least one clothing swatch. Only di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), a plasticizer, added to polyvinyl chloride (PVC) to increase flexibility, was found on every swatch. DEHP concentrations were the highest of any chemical measured, and were 52 to 875 times higher than any PAH concentration measured. DEHP was also detected on most items of unused firefighter personal protective clothing, although at much lower levels. These findings suggest that firefighters are exposed to high levels of DEHP, a probable human carcinogen, and at levels much higher than PAHs, the semivolatile toxic combustion products most extensively studied historically. Firefighter exposure to DEHP and other phthalate diesters therefore merits further study.
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