Fire Soot and the Many Hidden Hazards That It Carries

Fire Soot and the Many Hidden Hazards That It Carries

Once firefighters have extinguished the fire on your property, it's not yet safe to return. This is because of the remaining fire smoke, which can cause serious health problems for you and your family.

Smoke and soot are not just reminders of the disaster that fire brought to your home. They also indicate that you, your family members, and even your pets are still at risk, so you need to observe caution if you decide to take a quick look at your damaged property.

What Are Smoke and Soot? 

Smoke is made up of gases and particles from various items ignited during a fire due to incomplete combustion. It can include plastics and foam, wood products, carpets, and asbestos-containing materials.

The smoke usually leaves behind tiny carbon particles in the air known as soot, which measures 2.5 microns. It is often invisible to the naked eye and can be inhaled quickly. It sticks to walls and other areas warmer than the fire source. Soot is not only unpleasant to see, but it also has a horrible odor. If inhaled, soot can expose you to several health risks.

Health Risks of House Soot 

A home fire can be devastating and traumatizing, and it's understandable if your immediate goal is to restore the property to its former glory. However, it is also vital to know the potential health risks associated with smoke and its main byproduct - soot. These include the following:

1. Chronic Pulmonary  Issues

The presence of soot after a fire can cause your airways to work harder than usual. It can lead to an inflammation of your air passages and eventually result in long-term breathing problems.

More importantly, people exposed to smoke and soot for a prolonged period may develop COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is a serious disorder that can lead to heart problems and cancer.

 2. Eye Irritation   

Eye irritation is a less severe health risk from soot exposure. People exposed to the chemicals that soot contains may feel itchy and uncomfortable. Soot can also attach itself to clothing. Thus, even if you aren't inside the house, you might still experience irritation if you wear soot-infected clothes.

3. Asthma   

People with asthma are likely to have attacks if they inhale soot, according to a Denver water damage restoration company. Poor air quality can make things worse until professionals arrive to clean your home and restore it to its previous condition.

Children with asthma can also experience lung and throat irritation, making them more susceptible to infection.

The Consequences of Soot Exposure

There are serious dangers from inhaling soot or smoke after a house fire. The particles can cause severe health problems, especially if they get into your bloodstream. These include breathing difficulties, bronchitis, and respiratory infections. In a worst-case scenario, soot inhalation can lead to stroke, cancer, and premature death.

Toxic Materials Found in Soot   

The following are the hazardous materials that comprise soot particles:

1. Carbon 

This element helps produce chemical compounds like ammonia, nitrogen oxide, tar, and carbon monoxide. When partially oxidated, carbon can produce hydrogen cyanide.

2. PVC Plastic (Chlorine)

This is often used to make phosphate, dioxins, halocarbons, and bromomethane. The chlorine element of PVCs can produce dioxin, chloromethane, hydrogen chloride, phosgene, and other halocarbons.

3. Sulfur 

This is known for producing thiols, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide, compounds that leave behind unpleasant odors. Thiols often leave residual smoke smells that home surfaces can absorb.

4. Asbestos  

These are natural minerals full of flexible fibers known for resisting heat, corrosion, and electricity. Widely used as construction materials for old buildings that date back to the 50s up to the 80s, asbestos has since been found to be highly toxic. Prolonged exposure increases the risk of developing the lung disease asbestosis and mesothelioma, an aggressive form of cancer.

5. Hydrocarbons 

Hydrocarbons can release chemicals like ketones, phenols, furfural, cresols, formaldehyde, acetic acid, and carboxylic acid when partially oxidized. Heavier hydrocarbons often undergo condensation and end up as tar.

6. Pyrolysis 

This is a heat-based chemical change that produces large quantities of aromatic hydrocarbons like benzene and aliphatic hydrocarbons like methane, acetylene, ethane, and ethylene.

Key Takeaway 

After they extinguish the fire, many homeowners believe that it's safe to go back inside. They often believe any remaining smoke is generally harmless and tolerable. It is an inaccurate and risky assumption because smoke produces soot which is dangerous to health.

Smoke and soot contain a variety of chemicals, many of which are toxic. These include carbon, sulfur, hydrocarbons, asbestos, and several others, all of which can produce just as harmful compounds. Asbestos, in particular, has been known to cause cancer and other diseases when inhaled. It's because of this that its use as a material in many construction projects has strict regulations. Thus, it is even banned in many countries around the world.

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