USA — The Institut de recherché Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST) released its findings concerning the exposures, health effects and recommended protection actions for wildland firefighters. This effort, led by Canadian researcher Dr. Claire Austin, addresses health and safety aspects of wildland firefighting, including exposure to potentially toxic substances present in smoke and the resulting health risks to firefighters. The study also includes documented, independent, health-based recommendations concerning the need for respiratory protection for wildland firefighting.
While particulate matter may be larger in wildland fires, such fires do produce smaller particulates that are normally respirable to the small airways and are a potential cause of asthma and other restricted-airway diseases. Also, the larger particulates usually overwhelm the nose and upper airway, thus allowing these particles to enter the lower airways, making asthma and other diseases very likely.
Additionally, it has been documented by studies initiated by the International Association of Fire Fighters and conducted by the federal and state of California governments that wildland fires produce other toxic materials such as carbon monoxide and a number of carcinogens, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In fact, one such study conducted by IAFF medical residents found that a 3% drop in lung capacity can occur after one week of wildland fire fighting. There is also evidence of permanent lung damage in wildland firefighters.