A video that is part of the wildland fire refresher for 2013, about heat related illness among firefighters.
Thanks go out to Steve
Idaho Governor has recommendations on how to reduce damage from wildfires
The Governor of Idaho, C.L. “Butch” Otter, in an opinion article published under his name, has some recommendations about how to reduce the adverse impacts from wildfires. They include more roads, grazing, and logging.
Smoke from Idaho’s Mustang Fire had elevated levels of radiation
The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality tested the air quality near the Mustang Fire and said that even though they found “definitely elevated” levels of radiation, it did not pose a risk to human health. The air samples were obtained in the nearby town of North Fork. As Wildfire Today told you on September 21, the fire burned through four former mining sites that had traces of radioactive uranium and thorium.
The Chicago Tribune reports:
…Paul Ritter, health physicist with the state environmental agency, said in the area of the mining sites, smoke from the fire showed amounts of radiation roughly equivalent to emissions from a fire in 2000 that charred parts of Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nuclear weapons design facility in New Mexico.
“The readings are definitely elevated but not out of line with what has been measured in fires before. It is not a risk,” he said.
Americans are exposed to an estimated 310 millirems of radiation a year from natural sources, including some rocks and soils, according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
An analysis of air samples in North Fork showed residents would have been exposed to 0.5 millirems of radiation in a 30-day period. That compares to a dose of 5 millirems delivered by a round-trip transcontinental flight, Ritter said.
Utah students influence legislation about wildfires
Some high school students in Utah who were interested in the effects of climate change talked to state Representative Kraig Powell, who, according to a report in Power Engineering:
…has opened a bill file for legislation that would examine how climate change is expected to drive more and bigger wildfires and to begin planning for future wildfire fighting and suppression costs.
In early meetings with Powell, [the students] shared some of what they had learned about wildfire in Utah. For instance, they told how the state already has seen 400,000 acres burned this year with suppression costs of $47.1 million — part of a trend prompted by record hot and dry periods.
They also told how rehabilitating burned areas often costs more than fighting the wildfire itself. Their example? The 2007 Milford Flat fire which racked up a $5 million bill for suppression, while rehabilitating the scarred forest and range cost $17 million.
That’s what led to the concept for the bill, which is currently being drafted by the Legislature’s lawyers.
“I’ve been learning a lot,” Powell said. “It’s not a simple science.”
Meth production may have caused brush fire
Michigan State Police are investigating a small wildfire that may have originated from an attempt to cook meth in Marquette Township.
Researchers in British Columbia took advantage of smoky conditions from wildfires near Kelowna (map) and other areas in southeastern B.C. in 2003 to study the effects of smoke on the residents. The fires that year burned over 67,000 acres, destroyed 238 homes, and forced 33,000 people to evacuate.
The study not only evaluated the particulate data from air quality monitoring stations, but also the human health impacts, especially in urban settings.
The researchers found that increases in smoke particulates, PM10, were associated with increased odds of respiratory physician visits and hospital admissions, but not with cardiovascular health outcomes. Residents in Kelowna experienced an increase of 100 micrograms of particulate per cubic meter of air, which resulted in an 80 percent increase in respiratory hospital admissions and a six percent increase in the odds of an asthma-specific physician visit.
Thankfully, the University of British Columbia authors, Sarah B. Henderson, Michael Brauer1, Ying C. MacNab, and Susan M. Kennedy, made the entire paper freely available to the public, honoring the principles of Open Access.
We all hate paying for something and then not receiving what we paid for. That is what is happening now to taxpayers who pay for government-funded research and then have no access to the findings.
We have ranted about this before, and documented another example a few days ago when we discovered that it will cost us $41 to obtain a copy of the findings from research conducted by the University of Georgia. Associate Professor Luke Naeher and others found that lung function decreases for firefighters who work on prescribed fires for multiple days and are exposed to smoke. Further, it showed that respiratory functions slowly declined over a 10-week season.
This is not the only research that has explored the effects of smoke on wildland firefighters, but it may significantly add to the limited body of knowledge we have on the topic. We won’t know, however, unless we pay a second time in order to see their conclusions.
Researchers at some organizations receive pay raises and promotions based partially on the “publish or perish” meme. A system that requires researchers to publish in journals that are not completely open to the public, is antiquated and has no place in 2011 when a paper can be published in seconds on the internet at little or no cost.
Some of the research that has been conducted on firefighters requires a great deal of cooperation from the firefighters, including for example, ingesting core temperature monitors, carrying a drinking water system that monitors every drink they take, and even lubricating and then inserting a rectal thermistor probe attached to wires.
There is no reason for firefighters to go to extreme lengths to help researchers advance the researcher’s career paths unless the firefighters can receive some benefits from the project. So, we are jumping on the idea proposed by Rileymon in a comment on the University of Georgia article:
Maybe it’s time to suggest that firefighter/research subjects boycott new research studies unless the findings are put into the Public Domain?
Here is what we are proposing:
A new study from the University of Georgia found that lung function decreases for firefighters who work on prescribed fires for multiple days and are exposed to smoke. Further, it showed that respiratory functions slowly declined over a 10-week season.
Unfortunately, even though the study was probably funded by taxpayers, you will have to pay a second time see the study’s results. It will cost you $41 to purchase the article that contains the detailed findings uncovered during the research. The University of Georgia decided to pay a private journal to publish the article, rather than placing it on the
University’s web site for free. We have written previously about taxpayers not being able to access taxpayer-funded research. Why does the government continue to fund research, if the product of the research is not made available? A call to Luke Naeher, the senior author of the study, was not immediately returned.
Here is a summary of the report, which thankfully, is provided by the University of Georgia at no cost.
December 5, 2011
After monitoring firefighters working at prescribed burns in the southeastern United States, University of Georgia researchers found that lung function decreased with successive days of exposure to smoke and other particulate matter.
“What we found suggested a decline in lung function across work seasons,” said Olorunfemi Adetona, a postdoctoral research associate and lead author of the study published recently in the journal Inhalation Toxicology.
Luke Naeher, senior author and associate professor in the UGA College of Public Health, explained that the study was designed to investigate whether the 26 firefighters experienced a decrease in lung function working at prescribed burns compared with days they spent away from the fires. Previously, researchers had looked only at changes in lung function of wildland firefighters on days with exposure to smoke.
“Over a 10-week season, these workers’ respiratory functions slowly declined,” Naeher said, adding that there is need to investigate the degree to which these declines returned to their baseline after the burn season. Although results of the study show that lung function at the start of two burn seasons in a limited number of nine firefighters in 2003 and 2004 did not vary significantly, more definitive answers relating to the issue of longer term effect of exposure on lung function would require a different study design.
In recent years, the U.S. Forest Service has sought to better understand and improve its occupational exposure limits for firefighters across the country. Most studies have concentrated on burns in Western states where exposure to and composition of wood-smoke particulate matter may vary to some degree when compared with fires in the Southeast, including South Carolina, where the study was done.
Naeher said the study provides some preliminary information regarding the health effects of fine particulate matter exposure that is intermediate between two exposure extremes. On the low extreme lies ambient air levels typical for developed countries, while inhalation of particles by a smoker represents the opposite extreme. Much research in the field has focused on health effects at both extremes. However, the study of exposure at intermediate levels, like that experienced by wildland firefighters, and women and children exposed to indoor air pollution from cook stoves in developing countries is limited. Naeher’s research focuses on these two different populations, and he explains that the study of the body’s response tothese intermediate exposures may now be more urgent. For example, Naeher said, an initiative led by the United Nations Foundation aims to put clean-burning cooking stoves in 100 million homes in developing countries by 2020.
UPDATE: We heard from Luke Naeher on December 14, 2011. He told us that the research was funded by the University of Georgia, and the Department of Energy-Savannah River Operations Office through the U.S. Forest Service. He sent us copies of two research papers that were published in journals owned by Informa, a company with their head office in Switzerland: Personal PM2.5 Exposure Among Wildland Firefighers Working at Prescribed Forest Burns in Southeastern United States, and Lung function changes in wildland firefighters working at prescribed burns. Mr. Naeher said he cannot change the system in place for reporting science in the peer-review literature, but he will always share his published work freely with anybody who asks
I will have to admit that when the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Risk Management Committee distributed some information earlier this year about rhabdomyolysis, which is frequently referred to as “rhabdo”, I didn’t pay much attention. But today when the Wildfire Lessons Learned Center announced that a Facilitated Learning Analysis (FLA) for a severe case of rhabdo was available, I read it carefully and am now converted. The injury in the FLA occurred September 21, 2011 while a firefighter was taking the Work Capacity Test, or “pack test”. I have seen the light and realize how serious this condition can be.
Left untreated, or if not treated early enough, rhabdo can lead to irreversible muscle damage, permanent disability, kidney failure possibly requiring lifelong dialysis, and even death. Up to 8% of cases of rhabdomyolysis are fatal according to a NIOSH report. And all of this can be the result of exercising hard or engaging in a strenuous fire assignment if other risk factors are also present.
Rhabdomyolysis is the breakdown of muscle fibers resulting in the release of muscle contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream which are harmful to the kidneys and may lead to kidney failure.
The link between rhabdo and “compartment syndrome”, the condition that is emphasized in the FLA, is certain, but it is not clear to me, having much more fire training than medical training, if compartment syndrome leads to rhabdo or vice versa, and my research found conflicting information. But that is not really important, in that both conditions are similar in that they are caused by damaged muscle tissue. Compartment syndrome occurs when the damaged muscle is inside an enclosed compartment in a fibrous sheath with other muscles, as is found in the arms and legs. Rhabdo can occur with any muscles, but both can lead to the same outcome, including death.
I was disappointed that the recently released FLA did not state the cause of the injured employee’s compartment syndrome/rhabdo, nor did it provide much useful information about how to prevent a similar occurrence, other than to “prioritize staying physically fit”, and the “incorporation of healthy lifestyle choices and better nutrition”. So I attempted to gather some information here in one place that will hopefully be useful for wildland firefighters, to increase their chances of avoiding rhambdo, or diagnosing it if it occurs.