Wildland Firefighter Exposure and Health Effects Study
NIOSH, in partnership with the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the United States Department of the Interior (DOI), started the Wildland Firefighter Exposure and Health Effects (WFFEHE) study in the spring of 2018. Over 50 researchers from NIOSH and the USFS are following a group of federally-employed wildland firefighters (WFFs) over three fire seasons. The purpose of this study is to understand better the potential chemical and physical hazards associated with wildland firefighting and how these exposures affect WFFs’ health, especially after multiple fire seasons. We are interested in the effects on the WFFs’:
- kidneys, and
Why are we conducting this study?
We are conducting this study because we do not have a clear understanding of the potential health effects from exposures to WFFs throughout multiple wildfire seasons.
Who is Participating?
Study participants volunteered from wildland fire crews from the USFS and the DOI, National Park Service. During the 2018 and 2019 fire season, over 150 WFFs from six fire crews volunteered to participate in the study.
What do the study participants do?
Pre-season and post-season
Each year, researchers will interact with WFF study participants from all six crews at pre-season and post-season. Pre-season testing occurs as close to each crew’s official start date as possible (April/May each year), and post-season testing occurs as close to each crew’s official end date as possible (September/October each year). At each pre-season and post-season interaction, we will ask each participant to volunteer to:
- fill out questionnaires about their work and health history and health behaviors,
- have their height, and weight measured,
- have their blood drawn to measure cardiovascular, kidney, and inflammatory markers,
- participate in lung function tests,
- participate in hearing tests, and
- participate in non-invasive cardiovascular measures.
Each year, researchers will follow one firefighting crew during a mid-season live fire to better understand firefighters’ health and exposures during this critical period. In addition to all the tests above, we will also ask study participants from this crew to:
- give urine at pre-, mid-, and post-season to measure their biological uptake of combustion products,
- wear air sampling devices during their mid-season workshift to measure their inhalation exposure to combustion products, and
- allow NIOSH researchers to follow and observe them during their mid-season workshift.
When will the study results be released?
The purpose of this study is to evaluate a variety of health measures and exposures among WFFs over multiple fire seasons. While the original intent of this study was to follow wildland firefighters for three fire seasons, due to COVID-19, the third year of the study has been canceled. NIOSH will analyze data and begin publishing results after the study starting in 2021.