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uOttawa study: Firefighters absorb harmful chemicals through skin


[Close-up of the badge of Captain David Matschke, of Ottawa Fire Services] [Captain Matschke speaks in a fire hall] We know about the obvious dangers we face on the job, but this new research gives us definitive proof of the chemicals we are exposed to and the routes of our exposures. [Close-up of a firefighter’s boots and gear] A team of University of Ottawa researchers and their partners examined chemical exposure experienced by Ottawa Fire Service firefighters during on-shift, emergency fire operations between 2015-16. [Captain Matschke sits in a fire hall] The team collected urine as well as skin wipe samples from the firefighters before and after a fire to measure whether they are exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and other harmful chemicals often found in smoke. [Researcher Jennifer Keir speaks as she and Captain Matschke walk in a fire hall] We found that firefighters had between 3 and more than 5 times the amount of PAH metabolites in their urine after a fire compared to before. [Researcher Jennifer Keir speaks in a fire hall] We also measured mutagenic potency [Pictures of firefighters on the scene of a fire. Photo credit: Scott Stilborn] which gives us an indication of the possibility to induce genetic mutations, and we found that this increases on average fourfold after a fire. [Close-up of the arms of Captain Matschke] It’s important to know how firefighters are absorbing these PAHs because we know that some of them can induce DNA mutations which have been linked to cancer. [Firefighters board a fire truck] The team, led by Jules Blais, found a significant link between PAH metabolites found in urine and levels of PAHs found on firefighters skin. [Jules Blais walks through a lab and pulls out a sample] This suggests they are exposed to these harmful chemicals mainly through contact with their skin, not inhalation. [Close-up of lab equipment] This suggests they are exposed to these harmful chemicals mainly through contact with their skin, not inhalation. [Jules Blais, research team lead, speaks in a lab] Our research shows how firefighters are exposed to harmful chemicals, which helps us reduce those exposures and hopefully reduce the onset of disease. [Jules Blais and a researcher talk in a lab] [Captain Matschke speaks in a fire hall] This research on the toxic chemicals in smoke will help improve our procedures and our equipment and help us reduce job-related illnesses and live longer, healthier lives. [Fire trucks exit the fire station]

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