Forest worker exposure to airborne herbicide residues in smoke from prescribed fires in the southern United States
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): C. K. McMahon; P. B. Bush
Publication Year: 1992

Cataloging Information

  • burning intervals
  • carbon
  • CO - carbon monoxide
  • fire management
  • fire size
  • Georgia
  • herbicides
  • particulates
  • sampling
  • smoke effects
  • smoke management
  • statistical analysis
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: September 18, 2018
FRAMES Record Number: 34184
Tall Timbers Record Number: 8382
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Fire File
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.


Occupational safety and health concerns have been raised in a number of southern states by workers conducting prescribed burns on forest lands treated with herbicides. Modeling assessments coupled with laboratory experiments have shown that the risk of airborne herbicide residues to workers is insignificant, even if the fire occurs immediately after herbicide application. However, no field studies had been conducted to confirm these findings. To bridge that gap, a field validation study was conducted in Georgia to measure breathing zone concentrations of smoke suspended particulate matter (SPM), herbicide residues, and carbon monoxide (CO) on 14 operational prescribed fires. Smoke was monitored on sites treated with labeled rates of forestry herbicides containing the active ingredients imazapyr, triclopyr, hexazinone, and picloram. The sites were burned within 30-169 days after herbicide application. Tract size ranged from 2.4 to 154 hectares. Personal monitors and area monitors employing glass fiber filters and polyurethane foam collection media were used. No herbicide residues were detected in the 140 smoke samples from the 14 fires conducted in this study. The sensitivity of the monitoring methods was in the 0.1 to 4.0 range, which is several hundred to several thousand times less than any established occupationsal exposure limit for herbicides. The SPM and CO monitored on these fires is the first time breathing zone concentrations of these smoke constituents have been measured in the South. As expected, concentrations were highly variable depending on fire conditions and the location of personnel. Worker respirable SPM concentrations ranged between 0.2 and 3.7 mg/m3. Exposure periods depended on fire size and ranged from 1.2 to 6.3 hr. Area monitors that were placed in high-density smoke zones had total SPM concentrations ranging between 2.0 and 45 mg/m3. CO breathing zone concentrations ranged from < 6 to 30 ppm/hr while the fires were being worked on. These values are well below the Occupational Safety and Health Administration permissible exposure limit of 35 ppm/hr when normalized to an 8-hr work shift.

McMahon, C. K., and P. B. Bush. 1992. Forest worker exposure to airborne herbicide residues in smoke from prescribed fires in the southern United States. American Industrial Hygiene Journal, v. 53, no. 4, p. 265-272.