Base camp personnel exposure to particulate matter during wildland fire suppression activities

Marcy L. McNamara, Erin O. Semmens, Steven Gaskill, Charles Palmer, Curtis W. Noonan, Tony J. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Wildland fire base camps commonly house thousands of support personnel for weeks at a time. The selection of the location of these base camps is largely a strategic decision that incorporates many factors, one of which is the potential impact of biomass smoke from the nearby fire event. Biomass smoke has many documented adverse health effects due, primarily, to high levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5). Minimizing particulate matter exposure to potentially susceptible individuals working as support personnel in the base camp is vital. In addition to smoke from nearby wildland fires, base camp operations have the potential to generate particulate matter via vehicle emissions, dust, and generator use. We monitored particulate matter at three base camps during the fire season of 2009 in Washington, Oregon, and California. During the sampling events, 1-min time-weighted averages of PM2.5 and particle counts from three size fractions (0.3-0.5 microns, 0.5-1.0 microns, and 1.0-2.5 microns) were measured. Results showed that all PM size fractions (as well as overall PM2.5 concentrations) were higher during the overnight hours, a trend that was consistent at all camps. Our results provide evidence of camp-based, site-specific sources of PM2.5 that could potentially exceed the contributions from the nearby wildfire. These exposures could adversely impact wildland firefighters who sleep in the camp, as well as the camp support personnel, who could include susceptible individuals. A better understanding of the sources and patterns of poor air quality within base camps would help to inform prevention strategies to reduce personnel exposures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-156
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2012

Keywords

  • Air quality
  • PM
  • Wildland fire

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