When a fire breaks out, it's not just the flames that can cause damage to your property. Smoke and soot are also significant culprits in causing destruction and harm. In fact, the damage resulting from most types of fire is typically a consequence of ash, soot, and smoke damage. Smoke is a complex mixture of solids, liquids, and gaseous compounds like organic acids, dust particles, poly nuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds. The types of particles, gases, and liquid compounds that make up smoke largely depend on the type and amount of fuel that is being burned.
Smoke and soot are classified and categorized by their sources, which can include natural materials such as wood and paper, synthetic materials like plastics, vinyl, and most carpeting, and enzyme materials such as burnt plants or meats. Each category requires its own methods of smoke and fire damage remediation. Unfortunately, each of the components that make up the mixture of smoke can be very harmful to human health and property. For example, several PAHs in wildfire smoke, such as benzo(a)pyrene, benz(a)anthracene/chrysene, and benzo(j)oranthenes are carcinogenic. Organic acids such as 2-furaldehyde and vinyl acetate are also carcinogenic and can cause property damage by corroding susceptible surfaces. Additionally, particulate matter (PM) is another component of smoke with debilitating effects. These particles can be both organic and inorganic, including plastics from littering. Scientific data has well-established a correlation between an increase in the concentration of particulate matter and the incidence of respiratory and cardiovascular disease deaths.
Wildfires tend to produce fine and ultra-fine particles that are airborne and therefore breathable, and they can easily cross any barriers such as windows and doors. Commercial businesses and industrial facilities tend to draw outdoor air indoors via HVAC systems, but HVAC filters are ill-equipped to filter these fine particles. Breathing in fine particles is particularly dangerous, according to the California EPA. Wildfires produce up to 36 tons of particulate matter per minute, which is the size of one regular humpback whale per minute in fine particulate matter output. That's a lot of toxicity! Chronic exposure to these particulates can lead to allergies, bronchitis, and emphysema, while acute exposure can cause impaired judgment, eye and respiratory irritation, and even death. Some gases commonly released in burning, such as methane and ethylene, have also been shown to be carcinogenic in tests on laboratory animals.
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