MONDAY, Aug. 16 (HealthDay News) -- Firefighters may face a
heightened risk for heart disease as a result of breathing in
extremely fine particles that infiltrate the smallest air passages
and lodge in their lungs, new research indicates.
The findings suggest that better use of protective respiratory
equipment may lower exposure and possibly reduce heart risks, the
study authors noted.
The ultra-fine particles in question are extremely small -- less
than one-ten-thousandth of a millimeter in size -- but they make up
more than 70 percent of all particles emitted by fires, lead author
C. Stuart Baxter and his colleagues at the University of Cincinnati
said in a news release.
To gauge the potential risk to firefighters, the authors
conducted a series of test fires and monitored levels of inhalable
High levels of ultra-fine particles were recorded throughout the
firefighting process, they found. That means that firefighters face
exposure to these harmful pollutants during their efforts to put
out or contain a fire (known as the "knockdown phase") and while
trying to stop a fire from re-starting once put out (known as the
Nonetheless, Baxter and his associates said that the risk for
inhaling fine particles may be highest during the later stage of
firefighting, at which point firefighters typically are no longer
wearing any protective respiratory gear.
While calling for more research to explore the heart
disease-fine particle link, the authors suggest that firefighters
exercise caution by making more consistent use of protective gear
throughout all phases of firefighting. They also backed existing
protocols for screening of the firefighting community to identify
those already compromised by particle exposure.
Heart disease is an important concern in the firefighting
community, with almost half of all on-duty deaths stemming from
heart-related events, according to the researchers.
The findings are reported in the August issue of the
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
For more on health risks associated with air pollutants, visit
American Heart Association.