Firefighter Exposure Risks and Subsequent Reproduction Effects

July 2016December 2023
Fire and Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW)

This study aims to examine the exposure firefighters face due to fire incidents. It considers the potential routes of exposure, by monitoring and analysing the contamination of fire stations, personal protective clothing, and undergarments, as well as the laundering efficacy of items. Through a comprehensive survey obtaining information surrounding demographic, occupational, and reproductive history of participating firefighters, data can be overlaid with human samples contributed by firefighters (blood, urine, semen, and breast milk) to determine if any correlations are present. Blood, urine, and breast milk samples are analysed for select chemicals known to be present at fire incidents, and semen is analysed for quality. 


Through this study and subsequent findings it is hoped that firefighters can be provided with information to support their personal and reproductive health and hygiene, and fire services can be supported in mitigating exposure routes. 

Research Outputs

Engelsman, M., Snoek, M.F., Banks, A.P., Cantrell, P., Wang, X., Toms, L.M. and Koppel, D.J., 2019. Exposure to metals and semivolatile organic compounds in Australian fire stations. Environmental research179, p.108745.

Engelsman, M., Toms, L.M.L., Banks, A.P., Wang, X. and Mueller, J.F., 2020. Biomonitoring in firefighters for volatile organic compounds, semivolatile organic compounds, persistent organic pollutants, and metals: A systematic review. Environmental Research188, p.109562.

Engelsman, M., Toms, L.M.L., Wang, X., Banks, A.P. and Blake, D., 2021. Effects of firefighting on semen parameters: an exploratory study. Reproduction and Fertility2(1), pp.L13-L15.

Engelsman, M., Toms, L.M.L., Wang, X. and Banks, A.P., 2023. Firefighter undergarments: Assessing contamination and laundering efficacy. Environmental Research216, p.114344.

Engelsman, M., Banks, A.P., He, C., Nilsson, S., Blake, D., Jayarthne, A., Ishaq, Z., Toms, L.M.L. and Wang, X., 2023. An Exploratory Analysis of Firefighter Reproduction through Survey Data and Biomonitoring. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health20(8), p.5472.

Conference Abstracts

Engelsman, M. Firefighter Exposure and Subsequent Reproductive Effects. Women and Firefighting Australasia Conference, Brisbane, Aug 30 – Sept 2, 2016.

Engelsman, M., Whybro, M., Fewtrell, J. Firefighter Exposure and Subsequent Reproductive Effects. AFAC Conference, Sydney,  4-7 September, 2017.

Engelsman, M. Investigating Firefighter Exposure to Multiple Chemicals and Reproduction. AFAC, Brisbane, August 22-25, 2023.

Research Impact

Fire services have sought information from this study, and FRNSW has actively and closely worked with research findings to improve the hygiene of stations and personal protective clothing. Michelle Engelsman is currently working closely with the Carcinogens Working Group to assess fire stations with regard to their layout and any risks present around contamination. Through this research, the Equipment Development Unit has also actively sought not only new personal protective clothing for firefighters to wear to reduce the risk of dermal absorption but also researched and changed to a new laundry provider who provides a service more in line with requirements.

Awards and Prizes
  • 2017 Australasian Fire Authorities Council People's Choice Award for Best Poster
  • 2020 Fire and Rescue New South Wales Commissioner's Safety Award for outstanding contribution to research
  • 2022 Australian Fire Service Medal for outstanding contribution to research 


Project members

Prof Jochen Mueller

Theme Leader, Emerging Environmental Health Risks

Dr Xianyu (Fisher) Wang

Senior Research Fellow

Dr Ayomi Jayarathne

Senior Research Assistant/Analyst

Dr Yan Li

Senior Research Technician

Dr Sandra Nilsson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Zubaria Ishaq

PhD Candidate

Dr Andrew Banks

Adjunct Fellow