• LC-MS Compares PFA Exposure for Female Firefighters vs Office Workers


LC-MS Compares PFA Exposure for Female Firefighters vs Office Workers

Mar 11 2020

Firefighters respond to fires and accidents where there can be a risk to life as well as providing services to protect the public in emergency situations. But at what cost does their bravery come. Their response to emergency situations means that they can be exposed to thousands of chemical compounds from many different materials.

It turns out that research shows firefighters having a higher incidence of cancer than the rest of the population. But as a recent paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology suggests, much of that research has focussed on male firefighters. Researchers in California set out to address this discrepancy by comparing female firefighters and office workers in San Francisco.

Pans, fabrics and foam

The research - Exposure to Perfluoroalkyl Substances in a Cohort of Women Firefighters and Office Workers in San Francisco - focused on compounds known as PFAS - these are poly- and perfluorinated alkyl substances that are man made chemicals having fluorinated carbon chains. The compounds are resistant to heat, water and oil and the products they are used in - fabrics, pans and furniture - become more resistant to water, staining and grease.

It is reported that some PFAS may act as endocrine disruptors and could interfere with our hormone systems. This can have an impact on pregnancy, puberty and general reproductive health. PFAS compounds are associated with a low birth weight in infants, mammary gland development leading to impaired lactation and increased susceptibility to breast cancer. Unfortunately, firefighters have an increased exposure to these chemicals as they are used in protective gear and in the foam that is used on fires.

Firefighters rich in PFAS

The researchers in San Francisco collected blood serum samples from 86 female firefighters and 84 female office workers. Using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry they analysed the serum samples for 12 different PFAS. The use of LC/MS to analyse serum samples is discussed in the article, Online Solid Phase Extraction and LC/MS Analysis of Thyroid Hormones in Human Serum.

The researchers detected eight PFAS in the samples they analysed. Four of the PFAS appeared in all samples. The team found that the firefighters had twice the concentration of three compounds - PFNA, PFUnDA and PFHxS - when compared to the office workers. The team also found that firefighters who had used foam in the previous twelve months had a higher concentration of PFAS compared to firefighters who hadn’t. It is hoped that the results could reduce workplace exposure to PFAS for female firefighters.

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