Research : Mercury Toxicity in Wildland Firefighters

July 01, 2013
Mercury Toxicity in Wildland Firefighters
Wilderness & Environmental Medicine (2013) 24:141-145

Abstract:

Objective-- Recent studies have shown that significant levels of mercury (Hg) are being released into the atmosphere by wildland fires throughout the United States (US).  Eagle populations in the western US are experiencing Hg toxicity in areas where many of these massive fires are occurring.  We hypothesized that wildland firefighters exposed to smoke and other contaminates from these extensive fires would also reflect elevated blood levels of Hg.

Methods-- Wildland firefighters in the western US were studied during the summers of 2007, 2008, and 2009.  Pre and post-fire season blood samples were tested for Hg in a cohort of firefighters and control subjects.  

Results-- Over the course of three summers, 66 firefighters were studied (41 had pre and post-season blood draws).  In 2008 and 2009 a control group was added with a total of 39 subjects (24 had pre and post-season blood draws).  Detectable blood levels of Hg were found in six firefighters, and one elevated level was found over the course of the study period.  Six control subjects had detectable Hg levels and no elevated levels were found.

Conclusions-- This study did not show statistically significant elevated blood levels of Hg in our cohort of wildland firefighters.  However as forest fires continue to ignite, we recommend continued investigation to ensure the health and safety of firefighting crews.

 

Key words: smoke; mercury; firefighter; environmental exposure; occupational exposure; wildland fire.    

Manuscript: 
2013 WEM Smith et al Mercury Tox Wildland Firefighter.pdf
Authors:

William ‘Will’ R. Smith, MD, NREMT-P, FAWM

Clinical WWAMI Faculty, Division of Emergency Medicine

University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA

Emergency Medicine Physician, St. John’s Medical Center, Jackson, WY

Co-Medical Advisor, Grand Teton National Park, Moose, WY

President/Medical Director, Wilderness and Emergency Medicine Consulting (WEMC), LLC

 

George Montopoli, Ph.D.

Professor of Math and Statistics, Division of Science, Math, and Agriculture

Arizona Western College and Northern Arizona University, Yuma, AZ

Climbing Ranger, Grand Teton National Park, Moose, WY

 

Andy Byerly, RN, CEN, CCRN, NREMT-P

Former Climbing Ranger, Grand Teton National Park, Moose, WY

Fresno Community Regional Medical Center – UCSF, Fresno, CA

Michelle Montopoli, MA, EMT-B

MD Candidate Class of 2014, University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix, AZ

Associate Professor of Math and Statistics, Arizona Western College, Yuma AZ

Jenny Lake Volunteer, Grand Teton National Park, Moose, WY

 

Hank Harlow, Ph.D.

Professor of Biology, Department of Zoology & Physiology, University of Wyoming

 

Albert R. Wheeler, III, MD, FACEP

Emergency Medicine Physician, St. John’s Medical Center, Jackson, WY

Co-Medical Advisor, Grand Teton National Park, Moose, WY