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NEWS | Jan. 17, 2017

Air quality researchers examine multiple CATM sites to conduct exposure study

By Senior Airman Thomas T. Charlton Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Researchers from the 711th Human Performance Wing, U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine (USAFSAM) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), visited here to conduct one of several base visits to study possible exposure issues associated with firing ranges Nov. 14-17.

The researchers spent time analyzing the chemicals released during weapons firing on various Combat Arms Training and Maintenance ranges to provide additional data for their study.

“The Defense Health Program funded research to investigate exposure issues in small arms firing ranges across the Air Force,” said Dr. Christin Grabinski, 711th HPW, USAFSAM research scientist, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. “Specifically, we are collecting data required to recommend a better defined exposure limit to chemicals emitted from firearms. Currently, the standards are based on general industry.”

U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Mark Methner, NIOSH industrial hygiene scientist, led a research team to further the study and determine ventilation system needs in firing ranges.

“The standard for ventilation was set by NIOSH in 1975 and hasn’t changed to this day,” said Methner. “The standard was originally based on lead, but we are trying to update the standards for the new chemicals we are now able to analyze.”

These chemicals are currently being hypothesized as the cause of symptoms such as chronic headaches and breathing problems, among other respiratory health issues.

“The symptoms presented by a number of CATM instructors can be caused by many other things than the firing range. However, their symptomatology is so consistent, it leads us to believe there may be a connection,” said Methner. “It could be a number of things but we aren’t sure, so we are trying to gather solid data to give us clearer answers.”

A variety of chemical detection equipment was used by the research team to collect data for their study. When the weapon is fired, the scanners capture the fumes it releases. The instruments log the chemical concentrations and aerosol sizes each second. Additionally, the chemicals are collected on substrates for further analysis.

The research team was looking for things like particle sizes, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde and hydrogen cyanide in the fumes expended by the firing of a weapon.