The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported that firefighting ranks among the most dangerous occupations in the USA. Coronary heart disease is the main cause of death among US firefighters during fire suppression. Firefighters are often exposed to high concentrations of toxic, primarily ultrafine particles (<100 nm) aerosolized by combustion. First responders and first receivers are also exposed to ultrafine particles during emergency response activities. In general, exposure to ultrafine particles has been associated with impairment of cardiovascular function and other adverse health outcomes. Personal respiratory protection devices are widely used to reduce the inhalation exposure to particles of various sizes, including ultrafine, which account for more than 70% of particles (by number) released during fire knockdown (a flame reduction phase) and overhaul (late stage of the fire suppression process). However, there is insufficient information pertaining to the protection level provided by these respirators against combustion aerosols during various activities, including, but not limited to, overhaul operations. The present pilot study aimed at investigating the penetration of particles generated by combustion of different materials into elastomeric half-mask respirators worn by firefighters in a controlled laboratory setting. The Simulated Workplace Protection Factor (SWPF) was determined while the firefighters were performing activities routinely conducted in a fire overhaul situation. The data were compared to the findings of a recently published laboratory investigation on fitting identical half-mask respirators. The study utilized a new prototype instrument, a Portable Aerosol Mobility Spectrometer (PAMS) (Kanomax USA Inc., Andover, NJ, USA), for measuring total and size-resolved aerosol particle concentrations outside [C(out)] and inside [C(in)] of the half-mask respirator donned by a firefighter.
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