Diesel exhaust exposure in Ontario fire halls

Status: in progress


The purpose of this study is to provide an understanding of the nature and the extent of diesel exhaust exposure in Ontario fire halls, and to identify the effectiveness of existing control measures that have been implemented to decrease exposure.


Firefighters are at risk of exposure to many different carcinogens when firefighting and studies have found an increased risk of cancer. However, they spend a small percentage of their time actively fighting fires and more time at the fire hall.  This suggests that there may be other hazards contributing to the increased cancer risk such as shift work, stress, and diesel engine exhaust from firetrucks or other diesel equipment operating within the hall. Diesel engine exhaust has been classified as a definite human carcinogen (Group 1) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).


This project will consist of four parts:

  1. Air sampling: 24 hour area air samples will be collected to measure levels of diesel particulate matter in select areas of each fire hall.
  2. Interviews: firefighters will be interviewed about work history, time allocation within the fire hall, diesel exhaust policies and procedures, and overall outlook on diesel exhaust.
  3. Observational walkthrough: surveys will be conducted to assess determinants of exposure including fire hall design, number of diesel engine apparatus present in the vehicle bay within the hall, and types of ventilation present in the vehicle bay.
  4. Ventilation assessment: velocity measurements of local or general exhaust ventilation at each fire hall will be taken using protocols recommended by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).


The information gained can be used to better understand and assess the potential for diesel exhaust exposure in Ontario fire halls and to determine if current diesel exhaust controls are effective based on activity level, hall design, time of year, and geographical factors.

Progress (updated February 2018):

This study commenced in April 2016 and is in the dissemination phase. Ethics approval has been granted.

Data collection and analysis is complete. Study findings have been shared with all participating fire halls and stakeholders.


This project is funded by the Ontario Ministry of Labour.


Paul Demers (Occupational Cancer Research Centre)
Tracy Kirkham (Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto)
Monica Szabo (Public Services Health and Safety Association)
Sheila Kalenge (Occupational Cancer Research Centre)
Richard Chung (University of Toronto and Occupational Cancer Research Centre)