Acute respiratory health effects of occupational exposure to bushfire smoke in Western Australia

In recent years fire fighters in Australia have increasingly expressed their concern about the short term respiratory health effects after being exposed to bushfire smoke. Anecdotal evidence showed that fire fighters reported symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath after bushfire fighting. Overseas studies have reported declines in respiratory function both after short and long term exposure. In addition, it was not clear whether the standard issue particulate filters were effective in protecting fire fighters’ respiratory health. Therefore, this research investigates the acute respiratory health effects of exposure to Australian combustion products from vegetation fires, as well as the effectiveness of the standard issue particulate filters. As part of the research an extensive review of national and international literature has been undertaken. In addition, an economic and current policy analysis with regard to personal protective equipment for Australian fire fighters, in particular respiratory protection will be included in the research. Controlled exposure trials in a smoke chamber as well as field trials during prescribed burns were undertaken to investigate the above research issues. A total of 131 career fire fighters participated in the exposure trials. The final data and recommendations are expected to inform future policy making regarding fire fighter safety measures.

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