Nederlandse titel proefschrift Effecten op de ademhalingsgezondheid van beroepsmatige blootstelling aan rook van bosbranden in West-Australië
Engelse titel proefschrift Respiratory health effects of occupational exposure to bushfire smoke in Western Australia
Promovendus Vos, Annemarie de
Universiteit University of Western Australia
Datum promotie 01/01/2008
Promotores Onbekend
Abstract (Engels)

Bushfires are an integral part of the Australian environment, and consequently Australian fire fighters are regularly confronted with the challenge of bushfire fighting activities. Bushfires can be extensive and long-lasting, and as a result fire fighters can be exposed to bushfire smoke for long periods without respite. Anecdotal evidence suggests that bushfire smoke exposure can lead to respiratory symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. In an optimal environment, fire fighters are equipped with respirators and protective filters to prevent the inhalation of the air toxics in bushfire smoke. Yet, reports from the fire ground indicate that the protective filters are not effective in preventing the inhalation of bushfire smoke. As a result, fire fighters have increasingly expressed concern about the ineffective equipment and the resultant respiratory symptoms during and after bushfire fighting. This research aims to establish a scientific data base to support the anecdotal evidence. The objectives of the research were: (1) to identify and quantify the air toxics in Western Australian bushfire smoke; (2) to profile the acute respiratory health effects associated with bushfire smoke exposure; (3) to assess the effectiveness of three different types of filters under controlled conditions in a smoke chamber, and in the field during fuel reduction burn-off; (4) to formulate recommendations for reducing fire fighters’ exposure to bushfire smoke; and (5) to inform policy decision makers about the most effective form of respiratory protective equipment for bushfire fighting. Exposure trials were conducted in an experimental setting utilising bushfire smoke conditions in a smoke chamber and during prescribed burn-offs. Repeated measurements of respiratory symptoms, pulmonary function and oximetry were undertaken before and after bushfire smoke exposure. In addition, personal air sampling inside the respirators was undertaken to quantify and compare the levels of filtered air toxics. The analysis of the collected data demonstrated that, of those compared, the particulate/organic vapour formaldehyde filter was most effective in protecting fire fighters’ respiratory health during the smoke exposure period of maximally 120 minutes. Further research would be useful to determine the effectiveness of the filters under more realistic conditions during bushfire fighting activities. The findings of this research have resulted in a policy review in Western Australia. In 2006, the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia (FESA) reviewed its Bush Fire Smoke Exposure Standard Operational Procedures 51, and now issues the recommended particulate/organic vapour/formaldehyde filters to the 1,000 FESA career fire fighters. The use of protective equipment for bushfire fighters is inadequately regulated worldwide and the recommendation implemented by FESA can be seen as proactive and in advance of national and international best practice. In conclusion, this project was instrumental in the translation of public health research into best practice that protects occupational health, without the need for the lengthy process of legislative reform. Fire fighter organisations in other countries with high frequencies of bushfires could learn from this example, and move to review their policies and introduce adequate personal protection for fire fighters.

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