Assessment of Diesel Exhaust Exposure in Municipal Fire Halls in Ontario

Abstract No:


Abstract Type:

Professional Poster 


S Kalenge1


1Occupational Cancer Research Centre, Cancer Care Ontario, TORONTO, Ontario


Sheila Kalenge  
Occupational Cancer Research Centre, Cancer Care Ontario


This study was conducted to get a better picture of the nature and extent of firefighters' exposure to diesel engine exhaust in fire halls. The goal of the study was to assess diesel exhaust exposure and investigate the factors that may influence exposure levels in municipal fire halls in Ontario. We conducted a field survey to assess diesel exhaust exposure levels within the fire halls, examined current work practices and assessed any regional and seasonal differences in exposures and work practices.

Situation / Problem:

Firefighters and their employers continue to be concerned about the rate of cancer among this group of workers. Firefighters may be exposed to carcinogens while fighting fires, but spend very little time in this activity. This suggests that there may potentially be other hazards in the fire halls contributing to the increased risk of cancer such as diesel exhaust. Diesel exhaust is a known human carcinogen.


Fire halls were recruited from the province-wide firefighter health and safety committee. 24-hour area samples were collected in the vehicle bay, kitchen/common area and the sleeping quarters of 12 fire halls of widely varying size from six cities in Ontario, during both the summer and winter months. Diesel exhaust was measured using NIOSH method 5040 and analyzed for elemental carbon using thermal-optical analysis with flame ionization detection. Supplementary data collected in this study included: age/number of vehicles in vehicle bay, number of firefighters on shift, vehicle bay and fire hall design, diesel exhaust controls used in the fire hall, face velocities of existing ventilation units in vehicle bays, and number of runs conducted during the sampling period.

Results / Conclusions:

69 area air samples were collected and 16% of these had detectable levels of elemental carbon ranging from <0.5 to 2.7 µg/m^3. Exposures were higher in the vehicle bays, during the summer, in halls with back-in vehicle bay design, in halls with local exhaust ventilation (LEV) that was attached to vehicle tailpipes, and in halls that experienced more than 10 runs during the sampling period. Although there is no occupational exposure limit currently available in Ontario, fire departments should continue to use and implement diesel exhaust control strategies including both engineering (e.g. ventilation systems, using cleaner burning engines and fuel additives, effective separation) and administrative (e.g. idling policies, updated standard operating procedures (SOPs), frequent maintenance) controls.

Primary Topic:

Sampling and Analysis

Secondary Topics:

Indoor Environmental Quality/Indoor Air Quality

Acknowledgements and References

List any additional people who worked on the project or provided guidance and support along with details on the role they played in the research. (Please include first name, last name, organization, city, state and country).

1. Tracy Kirkham, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto ON, Canada.
2. Juwong Chung, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto ON, Canada.
3. Paul A Demers, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto & Occupational Cancer Research Centre, Cancer Care Ontario, Toronto ON, Canada.

The authors would like to thank the following for their assistance with province wide fire hall recruitment: the Executive Director, Government, Municipal and Public Safety, Public Services Health & Safety Association (PSHSA), Monica Szabo, the Division Commander of the Toronto Fire Services Department, Cdr. Andrew Kostiuk, the Executive Officer of the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters' Association IAFF Local 3888, Capt. Geoff Boisseau, the Acting Chief Ottawa Fire Services, Dave Matschke, Chief Stephen Laforet (Windsor Fire and Rescue Services), Chief Mark Pankhurst (City of Kawartha Lakes Fire Rescue Services), Chief John Osborne (Guelph Fire Department), and Vincent Villa (Greater Sudbury Fire Services).

This investigation was made possible through the ARQ grants from the Prevention Division of the Ontario Ministry of Labour.

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