Respiratory protection for firefighters - Evaluation of CBRN canisters for use during overhaul

Leaton Jones, Eric A. Lutz, Michael Duncan, Jefferey L. Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


In the United States, there are approximately 366,600 structural fires each year. After visible flames are extinguished, firefighters begin the overhaul stage of firefighting to smother remaining hot spots and initiate investigations. Typically during overhaul significant ambient concentrations of chemical contaminants remain. However, previous research suggests that the use of air purifying respirators (APR) fitted with chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) canisters may reduce occupational respiratory exposures. This pilot study used large-scale prescribed burns of representative structural materials to perform simultaneous, side-by-side, filtering and service-life evaluations of commercially available CBRN filters. Three types of CBRN canisters and one cartridge were challenged in repetitive post live-fire overhaul exposure tests using a sampling manifold apparatus. At a flow rate of 80L/min, nine tests were conducted in the breathing zone for three different exposure durations (0-15 min, 0-30 min, and 0-60 min). Fifty different chemicals were identified for evaluation and results indicate that 21 of the 50 chemicals tested were in the air of the overhaul environment. Respirable particles and formaldehyde were consistently present above the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH®) recommended exposure level (REL) and threshold limit ceiling value (TLVc), respectively. Each filter effectively reduced concentrations for respirable particulates below the maximum recommended level. Formaldehyde was reduced, but not consistently filtered below the TLVc. These results were consistent across all exposure durations. This study indicates that, regardless of brand, CBRN filters provide protection from the vast majority of particle and gas-phase contaminants. However, due to formaldehyde breakthrough, CBRN filters do not provide complete protection during firefighter overhaul.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-322
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of occupational and environmental hygiene
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 4 2015


  • firefighter
  • overhaul
  • protection
  • respiratory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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