Research

PFAS blood levels in firefighters

Elevated levels of blood perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) have been associated with a range of adverse health outcomes. Firefighters have been in the past been exposed to PFASs in firefighting foams in both training and in their work, and have previously been shown to have higher PFAS levels in blood samples than the general population. To date, no interventions have been shown to reduce PFAS levels.

Three firefighters who had worked in the fire service for more than three decades were puzzled by blood tests showing markedly different PFAS levels in their bloodstreams. Although all three had worked at the Fiskville training centre (closed by the Andrews government in 2015); all three had also fought the Coode Island chemical fire in 1991,  where huge amounts of PFAS fire foam was used. Yet one of them had markedly higher PFAS levels in his blood. One of the other two was a regular blood donor and the third had undergone a series of operations where he had lost blood. They wondered whether this could explain the difference. They contacted a researcher who had just released a study on PFAS in NSW and after some work, and $1.2m from the then MFB, a comprehensive study was begun by Australian researchers.

The randomized clinical trial of 285 firefighters found that both blood and plasma donations resulted in significantly lower PFAS levels - up to 30 per cent lower. Plasma donation was the most effective intervention, reducing mean serum perfluorooctane sulfonate levels by 2.9 ng/mL compared with a 1.1-ng/mL reduction with blood donation, a significant difference; similar changes were seen with other PFASs. Read more: 

  1. Gasiorowski R, Forbes MK, Silver G, et al. Effect of Plasma and Blood Donations on Levels of Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Firefighters in Australia: A Randomized Clinical Trial. [Full article] JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(4):e226257. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.6257. 
  2. How three firefighters’ hunch about their blood led to PFAS discovery  The Age

Work environment risk factors causing day-to-day stress
While chronic workplace stress is known to be associated with health-related outcomes like mental and cardiovascular diseases, research about day-to-day occupational stress is limited. A systematic review was done which included studies assessing stress exposures as work environment risk factors and stress outcomes, measured via self-perceived questionnaires and physiological stress detection.

The objective of the review was to identify work environment risk factors causing day-to-day stress.

41 studies were included in a qualitative synthesis. Associations were evaluated by correlational analyses.

The researchers, from Slovenia and Belgium, found that the most commonly measured work environment risk factor was work intensity, while stress was most often seen as the response. Measures from these two dimensions were also most frequently correlated with each other and most of their correlation coefficients were statistically significant. This means that work intensity was a major risk factor for day-to-day workplace stress. 
Read more: Lukan et al. 2022.  Work environment risk factors causing day-to-day stress in occupational settings: a systematic review [Full article] BMC Public Health, vol. 22, no. 1. 

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