Characterisation of the volatile organic components and heavy metals absorbed to particulates generated in bushfires

It is well known that bushfires generate high levels of particulates of various sizes. Some of these particulates are less than 1 mm which may present a significant hazard to human health. While there have been studies on the relationship between the particulate load from bushfires and the incidence of asthma, there appear to have been no studies conducted on the organics and heavy metals being transmitted via the particulates.

This project aims to test the hypotheses that:

  • Particulates in bushfire smoke are no different from typical urban particulates, and,
  • That the amounts of organic and heavy metals adsorbed to the particulates do not pose a threat to human health.

To meet these aims the following will be investigated:

  • Typical bushfire/urban particle size range, adsorbed contaminant type and concentration
  • The effect of different fire fuels/conditions/firefighting tasks on particle size range, adsorbed contaminant type and concentration
  • Relationship between particle size, contaminant type and concentration
  • The potential effects of particles on firefighter health

The project will provide significant new information on the characterization of particulates generated from fires, under varying burn conditions and varying fuel types. The results will allow for a more robust assessment to be conducted into potential fire fighter health risks, due to contaminated particulate exposure at fire scenes.

In the longer term, dissemination of the projects results will enhance Fire Authorities’ ability to clearly advise their members, and the wider community, of their likely exposure and risk

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