In vitro assessment of the toxicity of bushfire emissions: A review

Document Type

Journal Article


Elsevier BV

Place of Publication



School of Science / School of Medical and Health Sciences / Centre for Ecosystem Management




Dong, T. T., Hinwood, A. L., Callan, A. C., Zosky, G., & Stock, W. D. (2017). In vitro assessment of the toxicity of bushfire emissions: A review. Science of the total environment, 603-604, 268-278. Available here.


Bushfires produce many toxic pollutants and the smoke has been shown to have negative effects on human health, especially to the respiratory system. Bushfires are predicted to increase in size and frequency, leading to a greater incidence of smoke and impacts. While there are many epidemiological studies of the potential impact on populations, there are few studies using in vitro methods to investigate the biological effects of bushfire emissions to better understand its toxicity and significance. This review focused on the literature pertaining to in vitro toxicity testing to determine the state of knowledge on current methods and findings on the impacts of bushfire smoke. There was a considerable variation in the experimental conditions, outcomes and test concentrations used by researchers using in vitro methods. Of the studies reviewed, most reported adverse impacts of particulate matter (PM) on cytotoxic and genotoxic responses. Studies on whole smoke were rare. Finer primary particulates from bushfire smoke were generally found to be more toxic than the coarse particulates and the toxicological endpoints of bushfire PM different to ambient PM. However the variation in study designs and experimental conditions made comparisons difficult. This review highlights the need for standard protocols to enable appropriate comparisons between studies to be undertaken including the assessment of physiologically relevant outcomes. Further work is essential to establish the effect of burning different vegetation types and combustion conditions on the toxicity of bushfire emissions to better inform both health and response agencies on the significance of smoke from bushfires.