Balancing Acute and Chronic Occupational Risks: The Use of Nitrile Butadiene Rubber Undergloves by Firefighters to Reduce Exposure to Toxic Contaminants

Stijn Everaert, Greet Schoeters, Karel Claes, Jean-Marie Raquez, Bart Buffel, Tamara Vanhaecke, Jonas Moens, Juha Laitinen, Nicolas Van Larebeke, Lode Godderis

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Abstract

Firefighters are exposed via multi-route exposure to a multitude of chemicals (PAHs, VOCs, flame retardants, dioxins, etc.) that may cause acute and long-term health effects. The dermal absorption of contaminants is a major contributor to the overall exposure and can be reduced by wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. As leather firefighters’ gloves cannot be decontaminated regularly by wet cleaning, many Belgian firefighters wear supplementary undergloves made of nitrile butadiene rubber (NBR) to protect against the accumulation of toxicants. However, the safety of this practice has been questioned. In this commentary, the current practice and risks are outlined for the first time, assessed by an interdisciplinary working group of the Belgian Superior Health Council. As NBR sticks to the skin more at high temperatures, the contact time on removal will be prolonged, posing an additional risk for deeper burns. However, based on the physicochemical properties of NBR and the existing experience of firefighters and burn centers, it is estimated that such incidents occur relatively rarely in practice. On the other hand, the risk of repeated exposure to contaminated gloves if no undergloves are worn is unacceptable. Despite the slightly increased risk for deeper burns, it is concluded that wearing disposable NBR gloves under regular firefighters’ gloves is an appropriate and effective preventive measure against toxic contamination. The nitrile butadiene rubber must always be fully covered to avoid any contact with the heat.
Original languageEnglish
Article number534
Number of pages10
JournalToxics
Volume11
Issue number6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2023

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Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the authors.

Copyright:
Copyright 2023 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

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