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Exposures and reported symptoms associated with occupational deployment to the Buncefield fuel depot fire, England 2005
  1. Oliver Morgan (omorgan{at}
  1. Health Protection Agency, United Kingdom
    1. Neville Q Verlander
    1. Health Protection Agency, United Kingdom
      1. Fraser Kennedy
      1. Hertfordshire Constabulary, United Kingdom
        1. Michelle Moore
        1. Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, United Kingdom
          1. Sophie Birch
          1. Hertfordshire County Council, United Kingdom
            1. Joe Kearney
            1. Dacorum Primary Care Trust, United Kingdom
              1. Paul Lewthwaite
              1. Luton and Dunstable Hospital NHS Trust, United Kingdom
                1. Robert Lewis
                1. Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, United Kingdom
                  1. Steve O'Brian
                  1. Hertfordshire Constabulary, United Kingdom
                    1. John Osman
                    1. Health and Safety Executive, United Kingdom
                      1. Mark Reacher
                      1. Health Protection Agency, United Kingdom


                        Objectives: An explosion at the Buncefield depot just outside London, where 35 million litres of hydrocarbon fuels were stored, occurred on 11 December 2005, leading to the largest fire in Europe since the Second World War. We conducted a retrospective cohort study of airborne exposures and health status for workers deployed. Methods: Deployed individuals were identified through their occupational health departments. We sent a self-completion questionnaire asking about health symptoms during the burn and post- phases. The prevalence of health symptoms in workers was compared to a survey of symptoms in local residents outside the smoke plume. Results Of 1,949 eligible individuals, 815 returned questionnaires (response rate 44%). Respiratory protection was used by 39%, of which paper masks were most common. Symptoms were reported by 41% of individuals during the burn phase compared to 26% in the post-burn phase. In a final multivariable model, reporting of any symptoms was associated with deployment inside the inner fire cordon during the burn phase (OR=2.07, 95%CI 1.24 to 3.47) and wearing a face mask (OR=2.33, 95%CI 1.67 to 3.26). Compared to the general public, eye irritation (prevalence ratio PR=2.1, 95%CI 1.5 to 3.0), coughing (PR=1.3, 95%CI 1.0 to 1.8) and headaches (PR=1.7, 95%CI 1.2 to 2.5) were more common in workers deployed during the burn phase but not the post-burn phase. Conclusions This is the first occupational health survey of emergency workers deployed to a major fire in the UK using a multi-agency approach. Increased reporting of symptoms close to the fire during the burn phase was consistent with increased exposure to products of combustion, although no major acute illness was reported. That only a minority of individuals used face masks, which were not protective for symptoms, raises questions about the availability of adequate respiratory protection for such incidents.

                        • Buncefield Fire
                        • Emergency Services
                        • Hydrocarbons
                        • Occupational Medicine
                        • Public Health

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