Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation
First Responder Advocacy, Education & Research Since 2004
  • December 19, 2018

    Please Donate Here:

    Action Center
    NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms
    The NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms features 8,303 terms related to cancer and medicine.
    Follow Us!
    Facebook icon Twitter icon Twitter icon
    Newsletter Sign-up
    Sign-up for newsletter & email updates
    Member Login


    Forgot Your Login?
  • Diesel Exhaust & Other Carcinogens

    Diesel Exhaust

    *** World Health Organization Upgrades Diesel Exhaust to "Carcinogen" list.
    Do you record your exhaust exposures?
    Do you have exhaust removal equipment at your fire station or rescue squad?
    Contact us for assistance:

    Health Effects 

    Many studies indicate that breathing vehicle exhaust fumes inside the firehouse can cause or contribute to serious illnesses (emphysema, cancer, heart attack, and stroke) and even death for fire fighters who work and, many times, eat and sleep in the facility.

    The exhaust from engines burning diesel fuel is a complex mixture of gases and fine particulates. They contain toxic substances that disperse in the breathing area in a firehouse. Also, exhaust residue adheres to walls and other surfaces, and becomes embedded in clothing, furniture, etc., where it can be absorbed through the skin.
    • More than 40 substances emitted in diesel exhaust are listed as hazardous air pollutants. These pollutants are “likely to be carcinogenic to humans and are shown to be a chronic respiratory hazard to humans.“

    • Based on human and animal studies, it is recommended that diesel exhaust be regarded as an occupational carcinogen (causing cancer).

    • "Workers exposed to diesel exhaust face the risk of adverse health effects ranging from headaches and nausea to cancer and respiratory disease."

    These findings underscore the urgency of totally eliminating hazardous exhaust emissions from any facility. The International Mechanical Code (IMC), which serves as a guide for state building codes, requires that all toxic emissions from diesel exhaust be eliminated for the protection of those who occupy the premises.

    The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) suggests: “the most effective means is to connect a hose (to the exhaust pipe of all vehicles) that ventilates exhaust to the outside.“


    Another study, “Increased Particulate Air Pollution and the Triggering of Myocardial Infarction,” © 2001 American Heart Association, Inc., published in Circulation, shows that particulate and gaseous air pollutants also play a role in heart attacks, which accounted for 44% of all firefighter deaths according to a 1990-2000 study by the U.S. Fire Administration.

    Citing multiple studies of hospital admissions and emergency department visits in numerous American, Canadian, and European cities, the study states that, “These results indicate that ambient particulate air pollution is a risk factor not only for respiratory diseases but also for acute cardiovascular events.”

    A news story entitled “Exhaust Linked to Heart Risk,” in Fire Chief, January 2008, relates the findings of a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2007: “This study shows that when a person is exposed to relatively high levels of diesel exhaust for a short time, the blood is more likely to clot. This could lead to a blocked vessel resulting in heart attack or stroke.”


    Diesel Exhaust:

    Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, oxides of sulfur, and hydrocarbons (e.g., ethylene, formaldehyde, methane, benzene, phenol, 1,3-butadiene, acrolein, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons)
    [Linnell and Scott 1962; Environmental Health Associates 1978; Schenker 1980; Travis and Munro 1983]


    A report entitled “Carcinogenic Effects of Exposure to Diesel Exhaust,” prepared by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH), states that, “human and animal studies show that diesel exhaust should be treated as a human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).”

    National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), which develops recommended standards for firefighter health and safety, in its Standard 1500, chapter 9, states that it is necessary to run apparatus and other vehicles in the firehouse for routine service/pump checks and to keep them in good operating condition and ready for immediate service. According to NFPA, the exhaust discharge “contains over 100 individual hazardous chemical components that, when combined, can result in as many as 10,000 chemical compounds. A large majority of these compounds are today listed by state and federal regulatory agencies as being cancer causing or suspected carcinogens.”

    NFPA further states, “it has been documented that fire department personnel exposed to vehicle exhaust emissions have had adverse health effects, including death, even in areas where only short-term exposure had taken place.”

    The U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states, “Workers exposed to diesel exhaust face the risk of adverse health effects ranging from headaches to nausea to cancer and respiratory disease.”

    The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) lists cancer as one of the major occupation hazards facing fire fighters today. (Giarrizzo, J., “Cancer and Fire Fighting,” Fire Engineering, September 1990.)

    A study by the University of Cincinnati, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, November 2006, determined that firefighters are at a greater risk of developing four different types of cancer than the general population. The largest comprehensive study to date investigating firefighter cancer risk states that, “Firefighters are exposed to many compounds designated as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)—including benzene, diesel engine exhaust, chloroform, soot, styrene and formaldehyde. These substances can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin and occur both at the scene of a fire and in the firehouse, where idling diesel fire trucks produce diesel exhaust.

    “The researchers found, for example, that firefighters are twice as likely to develop testicular cancer and have significantly higher rates of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and prostate cancer than non-firefighters. The researchers also confirmed previous findings that firefighters are at greater risk for multiple myeloma.”


    The answer to protecting firefighters and other public servants is found in NFPA and International Building Code guidelines. NFPA Standard 1500, chapter 9, advocates, “the need for the elimination and containment of all vehicle exhaust emissions to a level of no less than 100 percent effective capture. This complies with NIOSH’s requirement to reduce emissions to the lowest feasible level to limit impact on human life.”

    The International Building Code addresses the issue in Section 502.14 of IMC -2006 Edition by stating, “areas in which stationary motor vehicles are operated shall be provided with a source capture systems that connects directly to the motor vehicle exhaust system.”

    The Industrial Ventilation Guide – A Manual of Recommended Practice states that dilution ventilation should normally be used for contamination control only when source capture is impractical. Source Capture Exhaust “is the preferred method of control because it is more effective.”

    A source-capture hose system is the only viable approach to meet the intended goals of NFPA, IMC and Industrial Ventilation Guide recommendations. Further evidence that this approach is expected for the removal of diesel exhaust fumes is found in U.S. federal grant programs (AFG and SCG), as well as from the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA).

    In an April 30, 2009, news release from the USFA, Acting Administrator Glenn A. Gaines recommended that firefighters “limit their exposure to toxins and known carcinogens by use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), by proper decontamination of PPE and other equipment, and by use of diesel exhaust removal strategies in fire stations throughout our nation.”

    He further specifies that, “Those fire departments lacking appropriate equipment to avoid and limit such exposures are encouraged to seek assistance and funds from the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) Program.”

    To underscore the gravity of this directive, the 2009 Assistance to Firefighters Fire Station Construction Grants (SCG) Program, gives priority to, “the effect the new or modified facility will have on the health and safety of the firefighters . . .”

    The grant criteria specifies that additional consideration will be given to “projects that will be designed and built according to the most recently approved requirements, codes, and standards developed by the International Code Council (ICC) as well as NFPA standards that involve fire station construction. These standards include sprinkler systems (in accordance with NFPA 1, chapter 13) as well as smoke/carbon monoxide detection systems and vehicle exhaust extraction systems (in accordance with NFPA 1500, chapter 9).


    SUMMARY – It is known that diesel exhaust exposure is harmful to humans. NFPA, NIOSH and other U.S. government agencies advocate aggressive techniques to limit exposure to these debilitating toxins. A source-capture system is the only strategy that is 100 percent effective in removing exhaust contaminants before a building’s occupants are exposed. Equipment should also be considered for living quarters, turnout gear rooms, and other occupant spaces to fully protect indoor air quality.

    Firefighter Safety Checklist

    1. Can personnel come in contact with equipment/clothing that was at a fire scene?

    At fires, contaminants adhere to protective clothing and vehicles. In the firehouse, if personnel come in contact with these gases and particulate matter they can be absorbed through the skin. NFPA 1500 Standard F.1.3 states that reuse of contaminated clothing can cause chronic exposure and accelerate physiological effects produced by contact.

    2. Are all apparatus tailpipes connected to an exhaust removal system?
    When apparatus start or operate in the firehouse, hazardous chemical compounds and soot disperse into the air you breathe. According to NIOSH/OSHA, studies show that substances in diesel exhaust should be treated as cancer causing or suspected carcinogens, and are listed as such by state and federal regulatory agencies. (Ref. NFPA 1500 Standard A.9.1.6)
    3. Are there sensors or detectors for toxins in the living and sleeping quarters?
    Some of the gases in diesel exhaust—carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, benzene, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and others—can cause serious health problems, even ingested in small amounts. The International Mechanical Code 502.14 calls for a source capture system that connects directly to the motor vehicle exhaust system in areas where stationary motor vehicles are operated.
    4. Are doors between the bay area and living quarters sealed against contaminants?
    If there are doors between offices/living quarters and the bay area, make sure doors are tightly sealed as a health safeguard for personnel. In addition, use mechanical means to ensure that there is positive air pressure in the living quarters and negative air pressure in the bay area. This can help keep harmful toxins away when doors are opened.


    MagneGrip Exhaust Removal


    Distributors                                           Regions Served

    Clean Air Concepts                                               OH, KY, MO, IA,
    11449 Deerfield Rd.                                                KS, NE, AK TN,

    Cincinnati, OH 45242                                             FL, GA, NC, MS,

    800-875-5440                                                                  AL, WV

    Aire-Deb Corp.                                                        NY, NJ, PA, VT,

    1625 Lindan Avenue                                                 CT, ME, NH

    716-812-3429                                                                 Canada

    Debbie Anstett                                                           


    Murphy Specialty Inc.                                   MA, RI
    P.O. Box 293
    Readville, MA  02137
    Paul Hardiman  

    DCS Solutions, LLC / MagneGrip South              TX, LA, AR,

    P.O. Box 878                                                              OK, NM, AZ

    Wylie, TX   75098


    Mike West


    Crystal Clean Air                                                   PA, DE, NJ, MD

    P.O. Box 1301

    Linwood, PA   19061


    Jeff Breiseth


    Weidner Fire Company                                        UT, ID, WY, MT,
    135 West 7065                                                      WA, OR, WA, CA,

    Midvale, UT  84047                                                      CO, NV


                      Page Offered in Partnership with the MagneGrip Group 

    Page Last Updated: Nov 01, 2016 (09:16:31)
  • Fire Fighter Cancer Foundation

    Copyright © 2018.
    All Rights Reserved.

    Powered By UnionActive

    569637 hits since Jul 20, 2006

  • Top of Page image