A researcher at the University of Alberta is looking into how the smoke from the Fort McMurray wildfire is affecting the health of firefighters in the area.
Nicola Cherry, who is heading the study, says that they are doing tests to see if there is any change in the firefighters breathing, and looking for a specific illness.
“We know that exposure to very high levels of smoke can cause acute bronchitis,” says Cherry. “We’re looking to see what symptoms they’ve got, and how well they do in tests of breathing. Then, we’re going to follow them up in three months to see if any of the problems we see now have reversed, or whether they’ve become more prominent.”
Cherry says they may be able to determine if shorter shifts are better for their health.
“We could advise, for example, working for 15 hours in a stretch is not a good idea, but two spells of eight hours with five hours in between might be less painful,” explains Cherry. “The types of protection may (also) be important. So were looking for things that can be modified.”
Cherry adds that this will also help to determine if the city will be safe when evacuees return.
“Their exposure will be a lot lower, but they’ll be a lot longer,” says Cherry. “Most of the (people) who have been up at the fire have been there for a 48 hour stint, and then come back for another 48 hour stint. Whereas people living there when they go back, they’ll be living there 24 hours a day. So, the low exposures will be important, particularly if they have any pre-existing lung diseases.”
Strathcona County Fire Chief Iain Bushell says they’re happy to help any way they can.
“The U of A has been very interested in doing a study about the effects of the smoke that the staff have been exposed to in Fort McMurray, so we’re very happy to contribute to the research and lay down some baselines,” says Bushell. “They’ll be coming back several times to test them again over the course of the next few months.”
Cherry says she’s taken blood, urine and breath samples from 60 firefighters who have been in the area for three days. (km/bg)