When I was a teenager (back in the olden days), my mom and her brother ran a successful construction company as general contractors. They specialized in 24-hour storm emergency, board-up services, and fire restoration in Michigan.
Fire is an exothermic (heat-producing) and irreversible process involving flame, heat, and oxygen depletion and releasing fumes, toxic gases, and light energy. Despite the fatal incidents in fire, a more significant number of people experience non-fatal fire injuries, including various degrees of burns and internal (lung) damage.
Since corrosive and toxic odors from fire damage can be extremely harmful to you and your home, it’s vital that our team identifies them and begins mitigating them immediately. That’s where my mom and her brother’s company would come in.
There were even times that my mother would go and do the physical work with her crews (who were primarily men) to do initial actions. She was indeed a “Rosie the Riveter” of her industry!
Here are a few actions typically suggested to take in the fire restoration process:
- Contact Restoration Specialists
- Inspection and Assessment
- Board Up and Add Roof Tarps
- Water Removal
- Removal of Soot and Smoke Damage
- Clean and Sanitize
- Rebuild and Repairs
I can’t help but think about the fact that they were not required to wear protective gear to do those jobs. Were these jobs putting my mother’s health in jeopardy? Later in life, she developed a cough. Was it because of all the toxins she was breathing in while working on those jobs?
What are the long-term effects of fire exposure?
As my mother aged and long after her work with fire restoration, her asthma from childhood seemed to have returned and returned with a vengeance! She had a constant, nagging, dry cough for years.
Toxic gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide can be released during a fire, along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene and formaldehyde.
Exposure to these toxic fumes can have immediate and long-term health effects. In the short term, inhalation of these gases can cause symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing, chest pain, headaches, dizziness, nausea, and throat irritation. Prolonged exposure may result in more severe respiratory issues and even lung damage.
What are the effects of toxic gases on human health?
Gas detection experts say, “When toxic gases are absorbed, inhaled, or consumed through the eyes or skin, they can cause damage to living cells and tissues, damage to the nervous system, serious disease, or, in extreme cases, death.” Different toxic gases can quickly accumulate in confined settings. –American Lung Association
Here are some examples of the potential health consequences that can arise from prolonged exposure to fire fumes:
- Respiratory Disorders: Fire fumes can cause or exacerbate respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Prolonged exposure to smoke and soot particles can lead to inflammation of the airways, lung damage, and breathing difficulties.
- Chemical Sensitivities: Some individuals may develop sensitivities or allergies to certain chemicals present in fire fumes. This can result in heightened reactions to everyday substances, leading to symptoms like skin rashes, nasal congestion, and difficulty breathing.
- Cardiovascular Issues: Exposure to toxic gases and particulate matter from fires has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes. The fine particles can enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation, leading to the development or progression of cardiovascular conditions.
- Cancer: Fire fumes contain numerous carcinogenic compounds, such as benzene, which is known to increase the risk of leukemia. Prolonged exposure to these toxic substances can potentially lead to the development of various types of cancers, including lung, bladder, and kidney cancer.
- Neurological Effects: Some chemicals present in fire fumes, such as carbon monoxide, can cause neurological damage if inhaled in high concentrations. Symptoms can range from mild headaches and dizziness to confusion, memory problems, and even loss of consciousness.
It’s important to note that the severity of these long-term effects can vary depending on factors such as the duration and intensity of exposure, individual susceptibility, and overall health. However, even low levels of exposure over a prolonged period can have detrimental effects on health.
If you or someone you know has been exposed to fire fumes, it’s essential to seek medical attention and consult with professionals specializing in fire restoration and cleanup. They can help ensure that all traces of toxic fumes are appropriately eliminated, minimizing the risk of long-term health issues.
What toxic gas is produced by fire?
The major lethal factors in uncontrolled fires are toxic gases, heat, and oxygen deficiency. The predominant toxic gas is carbon monoxide, which is readily generated from the combustion of wood and other cellulosic materials. –National Library of Medicine
In addition to carbon monoxide, several other toxic gases can be produced during fires. One of these gases is hydrogen cyanide (HCN), which is formed when nitrogen-containing materials, such as wool, silk, and plastics, undergo combustion. HCN is a highly toxic gas that interferes with the body’s ability to use oxygen effectively, leading to severe tissue damage and, in high concentrations, can be rapidly fatal.
Another dangerous gas commonly found in fire smoke is hydrogen chloride (HCl). HCl is created when materials containing chlorine, such as PVC pipes and certain plastics, burn. It is a corrosive gas that can cause significant damage to the respiratory system when inhaled. Exposure to HCl can lead to coughing, choking, and the development of respiratory conditions, such as bronchitis or pulmonary edema.
Other toxic gases that may be present in fire smoke include sulfur dioxide (SO2), which is produced when materials containing sulfur burn, and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is produced under high-temperature fire conditions. These gases can irritate the respiratory system, cause breathing difficulties, and worsen existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma.
Are fumes from a fire toxic?
In conclusion, the fumes produced by fires are indeed toxic and can have significant health implications in both the short and long term. Proper fire restoration and cleanup processes are crucial not only for the repair of damaged properties but also for protecting the health and well-being of those exposed to the aftermath of a fire.