Live fire exposure, PPE, personal protective equipment, hood design, PPE protection, PPE cleaning, cleaning test protocols

Journal Article Reports on the use of Preliminary Exposure Reduction Practices or Laundering to Mitigate Contaminants on Firefighter PPE Ensembles

March 1, 2023

The “Use of Preliminary Exposure Reduction Practices or Laundering to Mitigate Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Contamination on Firefighter Personal Protective Equipment Ensembles” peer-reviewed journal article has been published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. The manuscript was authored by collaborators from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI), part of UL Research Institutes, Illinois Fire Service Institute (IFSI), and Skidmore College with data collected at IFSI as part of the Protection from Chemical, Thermal, and Cardiovascular Risks: Impact of PPE Laundering and Hood Design research project.

This study aimed to better understand the relationship between firefighters’ occupational exposure and contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE). Recent research has shown that common cleaning practices are not effective in completely removing certain contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from PPE. In order to gain further understanding of the efficacy of cleaning practices, this study used a standardized fire exposure simulator to create repeatable conditions and measured PAH surface contamination levels on PPE using wipe samples and filters attached to firefighter gear worn by standing mannequins.

The primary objectives of this study include:

  • Examine the effects of repeated fireground smoke exposure followed by cleaning — both machine laundering and on-scene preliminary exposure reduction (PER) techniques — on PAH contamination of firefighters' PPE
  • Measure contamination breakthrough of turnout jackets by comparing the amount of PAH on the outer shell and interior liner
  • Evaluate off-gassing PAH from used PPE after different cleaning treatments


Total PAH concentration after up to 40 repeated cycles of exposure and cleaning showed no significant differences between jacket closure type (zipper or hook & dee). Machine laundering and on-scene PER methods significantly reduced contamination levels on exterior pants and helmets. Machine laundering and wet soap PER methods were effective in reducing surface contamination and appeared to prevent accumulation of contaminants after repeated exposures. However, semi-volatile PAH deep within the fibers of bulky PPE were not completely eliminated with any of the methods tested and contributed to continued off-gassing. While PPE that was laundered after exposure resulted in the lowest concentrations of off-gassed PAH, further research is needed to identify the most effective PPE cleaning method that considers the broad spectrum of contaminants.

"Care and maintenance practices for firefighting PPE continue to evolve. We hope studies such as this will provide insight into trade-offs that exist and identify where advances are still needed."

—Gavin Horn, research engineer

The PPE Interface project is funded by the FEMA Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program through EMW-2015-FP-00646. Additional support for this effort was provided by UL Research Institutes and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

About International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health:

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed, open access journal published semimonthly online by MDPI. It covers environmental sciences and engineering, public health, environmental health, occupational hygiene, and global health research.

Protection from Chemical, Thermal, and Cardiovascular Risks: Impact of PPE Laundering and Hood Design
PPE Interface Study