Residential and commercial fires generate a complex mixture of volatile, semivolatile, and nonvolatile compounds. This study focused on the semi/nonvolatile components of fire debris to better understand firefighter exposure risks. Using the enhanced sensitivity of gas chromatography coupled to atmospheric pressure ionization-tandem mass spectrometry (APGC-MS/MS), complex fire debris samples collected from simulation fires were analyzed for the presence of potentially toxic polyhalogenated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans (PXDD/Fs and PBDD/Fs). Extensive method development was performed to create multiple reaction monitoring (MRM) methods for a wide range of PXDD/Fs from dihalogenated through hexa-halogenated homologue groups. Higher halogenated compounds were not observed due to difficulty eluting them off the long column used for analysis. This methodology was able to identify both polyhalogenated (mixed bromo-/chloro- and polybromo-) dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans in the simulated burn study samples collected, with the dibenzofuran species being the dominant compounds in the samples. Levels of these compounds were quantified as total homologue groups due to the limitations of commercial congener availability. Concentration ranges in household simulation debris were observed at 0.01-5.32 ppb (PXDFs) and 0.18-82.11 ppb (PBDFs). Concentration ranges in electronics simulation debris were observed at 0.10-175.26 ppb (PXDFs) and 0.33-9254.41 ppb (PBDFs). Samples taken from the particulate matter coating the firefighters' helmets contained some of the highest levels of dibenzofurans, ranging from 4.10 ppb to 2.35 ppm. The data suggest that firefighters and first responders at fire scenes are exposed to a complex mixture of potentially hundreds to thousands of different polyhalogenated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans that could negatively impact their health.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Analytical Chemistry