Fire fighters are routinely exposed to thermal, chemical, biological, and physical hazards. Risk of exposure to thermal and physical hazards is limited to the fireground while the potential for exposure to chemical and biological hazards continues until contaminated clothing has been effectively decontaminated. This study characterized clothing contamination levels in retired fire fighter turnout gear and evaluated the effectiveness of current laundering practices in decontaminating this protective clothing.
Retired turnout coats, destructively evaluated using solvent extraction and gas chromatography with mass spectrometry, showed a variety of contaminants, some a significant concentrations. The relative effectiveness of six laundering techniques was determined against five materials using a technique to reproducibly contaminate and evaluate contaminant levels with six target chemicals. Dry cleaning was found to be the most efficient process for removing target contaminants while there was relatively little difference for most of the conventional laundering techniques. Force air circulation also provided effective in removing significant amounts of contamination. In addition, the effects of laundering procedures on clothing material performance were evaluated. The most significant changes was the reduction of water penetration resistance for a non-breathable moisture barrier material.