International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds in smoke exposure of firefighters during prescribed burning in the Mediterranean region

Toussaint Barboni A B , Magali Cannac A , Vanina Pasqualini A , Albert Simeoni A , Eric Leoni A and Nathalie Chiaramonti A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Université de Corse, Equipe Feux, UMR-CNRS (Unités Mixte Recherches-Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) 6134, Sciences Pour l’Environnement, BP 52, F-20250 Corte, France.

B Corresponding author. Email: barboni@univ-corse.fr

International Journal of Wildland Fire 19(5) 606-612 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF08121
Submitted: 14 July 2008  Accepted: 4 November 2009   Published: 9 August 2010

Abstract

Prescribed fires can be used as a forest management tool to reduce the severity of wildfires. Thus, over prolonged and repeated periods, firefighters are exposed to toxic air contaminants. This work consisted in collecting and analysing smoke released by typical Mediterranean vegetation during prescribed burning. Sampling was performed at five active zones on the island of Corsica. Seventy-nine compounds were identified: volatile organic compounds and semi-volatile organic compounds, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Depending on exposure levels, the toxins present in smoke may cause short-term or long-term damage to firefighters’ health. The dangerous compounds emitted, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes, were quantified. Their concentrations varied as a function of the study site. These variations were due to the intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of the fire site (e.g. plant species, fire intensity and wind). Our results show that benzene concentration is high during prescribed burning, close to the exposure limit value or short-term exposure limit. Benzene can be considered as a toxicity tracer for prescribed burning because its concentration was above the exposure limit value at all the study sites. The authors suggest that respirators should be used to protect staff during prescribed burning operations.

Additional keywords: air quality, BTEXs, firefighter exposure, forest fire smoke, SVOC, VOC.


Acknowledgments

We thank the ONF and the forest firefighters for carrying out prescribed burning on our study sites. The authors acknowledge the European Community for partial financial support (Programme Interet Communautaire). We are pleased to acknowledge financial support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing (Groupement d’Intérêt Scientifique Incendie program) and the National Research Agency under contract no. NT05–2_44411.


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