Tag Archives: Peter McBride

Canadian firefighter declares nanotechnologies a known danger

Capt. Peter McBride Ottawa (Canada) Fire Services declared that nanotechnology has been proven unsafe at a Fire Dept. Instructors Conference (FDIC)  in Indianapolis (US), which was held April 16-21, 2012. From the April 24, 2012 article by Ed Ballam for Firehouse.com,

Firefighters and responders have known for decades that smoke is harmful to their health, but the latest studies have shown that the microscopic materials that become airborne during fires are far more deadly than ever realized. That’s because of the proliferation of nanotechnology – particles that are one billionth of a meter in size – that are found in today’s consumer products.

Capt. Peter McBride Ottawa (Canada) Fire Services spoke of the dangers of nanotechnologies, which contain known cancer causing materials, at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) in Indianapolis. He is a safety officer in Ottawa, responsible for the health and safety of the firefighters in his department.

I’m not sure how McBride determined that these particles were cancer-causing or exactly which particles he’s discussing.  From the article,

He became acutely interested in nanotechnologies when a huge downtown sporting goods store burned and belched acrid black smoke for blocks. Carbon fiber sporting goods, including thousands of skis, burned and emitted microscopic particles that coated everything, particularly his white department-issued SUV. He noticed stubborn black deposits on the SUV that just wouldn’t come off.

Realizing smoke was an inherent hazard of firefighting, he set out to see exactly what that black goop was on his SUV and how to best protect his crews from its hazards.

And what he found is that when material with nanotechnology burns, it emits dangerous particulates.

In a sporting goods store fire, I’d expect carbon nanotubes and silver nanoparticles in the particulate matter as these are commonly used in sporting goods. If there were other nanoparticles created as a consequence of the fire, I’d like to know which ones.

On a more general note, we have been ingesting more nanoparticles than we know. For example, burning diesel gas which we have been inhaling for decades also emits dangerous particulates at the nanoscale as we recently found out (my Oct. 7, 2012 posting on diesel gas honey bees [scroll down 1/2 way]).

Getting back to firefighters and nanotechnology, my concern is that McBride is making a claim without supporting data as he does here in the article,

“I am not against nanotechnologies,” McBride said. “I am against us not doing anything to protect ourselves from the known dangers.” [emphasis mine]

Who knows about these dangers? I haven’t seen a single claim from a researcher about the ‘known dangers’ of nano: particles/materials/technologies. In fact, it’s the uncertainty that’s disturbing.

I’m not the only with issues about this piece, commenters have quickly noted the problems, from the article webpage (I fixed some minor typos),

  • Bmayo

I’m sorry but Captain Mc Bride is very mistaken In the world of engineering and science there is a huge difference between. .Nano and micro, micro is thousands of time larger than nano-particles. also the idea of keeping and using a the SCBA until the fire is totally out is nothing new. The fire service has been teaching this for over 30 years.


yeah, it’s just the specific mention of carcinogenicity, mentioned twice, that i want evidence for. that’s not a word you toss around casually in this industry.

Adam Sawyer

There are some legitimate health risks with certain types of combustible nanoparticles/nanofibers, but just because a product has “nanotechnology” in it does not necessarily mean it’s dangerous.  The challenge will be for fire safety researchers and toxicologists to collaborate and figure out what’s getting into the air and at what concentration.  Study it the same way plastics were studied decades ago and we’ll figure out which materials cause problems and which don’t.


Yep,,,,,The joys of Firefighting …


Very Very good article


I’m a safety trainer, and any small particulates can be hazardous, but I’d like information on the “known cancer causing materials.” I’ve never seen anything alleging that before, and if you have references, please list them.

No one could possibly fault McBride for his concerns about safety and it’s certainly true new nanotechnology-enabled products could pose special hazards. If McBride has data that supports his contention, I, like Antimatter, would like to see the references. I’d also appreciate a little more specificity with the terminology.