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A health and safety issue when dealing with carbon nanotubes (CNT) and carbon nanofibers (CNF).  Many of do not even think about carbon nonotubes or carbon nanofibers but they represent the newest technology that creates a health hazard for our firefighters. NIOSH 1 rated the health hazards, based on comparison, with silica, asbestos, ultrafine carbon black as hazardous to a person’s or firefighter’s health. The hazard posed is by inhalation of these particles through exposure either while touring a worksite or extinguishing a fire and not wearing proper PPE. 

 

Carbon nanotubes and nanofibers are commercially used in a variety of ap­plications including: electronics, lithium-ion batteries, solar cells, super capacitors, thermoplas­tics, polymer composites, coatings, adhesives, bi­osensors, enhanced electron/scanning microscopy imaging techniques, and inks. They are also used in pharmaceutical/biomedical devices for bone graft­ing, tissue repair, drug delivery, and medical diag­nostics. The exposures originate from the exposure during the manufacturing process or during a fire in a manufacturing facility. We will be seeing nano particles introduced into everyday construction materials to include drywall, paint and some plastics.

 

Studies conducted by researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have determined that adding a small amount of carbon nanofibers to the polyurethane foams used in some upholstered furniture can reduce flammability by about 35 percent when compared to foam infused with conventional fire retardants. There remains the reality that this new flame retardant material becomes a part of the toxic mix firefighters find in fires. A continuous danger to our firefighters not properly protected, even during overhaul.

 

Many of the preventative methods preventing contamination are those familiar processes we apply every day after a possible exposure to bloodborne pathogens, asbestos or other materials jeopardizing our health. Those simple precautions are exposure and hazard assessment procedures for determining the need for and selection of proper personal protective equipment, such as protective clothing, gloves and res­pirators; education of the firefighters related to the sources and environments that may expose them to CNT and CNF, and train firefighters how to use appropriate controls, work practices, and personal protective equipment to minimize exposure. The department must provide facilities for hand washing, institute proper decontamination procedures after exposures and encourage firefighters to make use of hand washing and showering facili­ties before eating, drinking water, smoking or leaving the worksite. Finally, the department must provide proper facilities for showering and changing clothes, with separate facilities for the stor­age of bunker gear and the firefighters civilian clothing; preventing the inadvertent cross-contamination of work and non-work areas and reducing the possibility of take-home contamination. Many fire departments provide washers and dryers for the firefighters to wash their uniforms at work and not at home further reducing the possibility of cross contamination with family laundry.

 

Symptoms of exposure many not show up for years after exposure similar to many of the hydrocarbon particles inhaled by firefighters leading to some forms of long term respiratory illness and possible cancers. Reporting possible exposures and wearing the proper PPE and applying post contamination procedures will go far in protecting your firefighter’s health.

 

Endnotes:

  1. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2013-145/pdfs/2013-145.pdf

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Comment by John K. Murphy on September 8, 2014 at 3:15pm

Talking about this now on FE chat webcast

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