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Why Soot is a Health Hazard?

What is soot?

Smoke is a complex mixture of toxic gases and particles, which are generated from various materials that burn during a fire. A typical structure fire may generate literally tens of thousands of toxic chemicals and gases as a variety of materials and products are burned. Soot is the carbonaceous deposits remaining after incomplete combustion. Soot is typically black or gray, whereas ash is typically white or gray. Soot can contain traces of the fuel that caused it, allowing the identification of the source. Soot and the combustion byproducts associated with it can be harmful. 


Here's something you should know about soot:

  • Wood smoke has more than 100 chemicals in common with cigarette smoke.

  • Soot is classified as PM 2.5 ---particulate matter 2.5um (micrometers) in diameter --- has been linked to significantly increased risk of death from lung cancer and other severe respiratory ailments. Fine particles of this size and smaller evade the body's natural defense mechanisms and migrate deep into the lungs.

  • Airborne particulate is invisible.

  • Soot outdoors is regulated by the EPA. It is a particulate matter classified as a "criteria pollutant" by the EPA, and is an air pollutant for which the agency has established a National Ambient Air Quality Standard, the outdoor 24-hour fine particle standard (35 micrograms per cubic meter).

Keep this in mind dealing with smoke in your home:

  1. Complex Particulates and Chemicals Residues: Fire and smoke leaves behind complex particulates and chemical residues. These substances can significantly impact the health and often result in lingering smoky odors. Hundreds of reaction products are created during and after the fire, including toxic compounds from modern furnishings, building materials, and insulation materials. These cancer-causing chemicals become airborne during a fire and bind with smoke properties. The visible soot, char, and ash are responsible for the characteristics staining after a fire, but there are also hundreds of other chemical compounds released.

  2. Health Effects: Smoky odors can degrade indoor air quality for months or even years after the fire and smoke event. Even when all visible traces of fire and smoke are gone, lingering odors remain. Understanding the effects of volatile organic compound (VOC's) from fire and smoke is essential for evaluating the level of remaining contamination.

These pictures are from a fire damage of a local shopping center. The stores and restaurant that was affected had to be ozone for several days after the mitigation process was completed to neutralize the odor. The introduction of particle counters for mitigators or restorers' usage had not come into play at that time for testing the air quality. Today it should be used on every fire/smoke damage project. 

It is important to have a IICRC Certified Fire and Smoke Restoration Technician (FSRT) to evaluate and inspect your home. A certify technician can identify any potential health hazards caused by the fire and smoke damage.

Contact us if you need help with air quality issues of your home or business as it is related to fire and smoke damage issues.

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