House fires are terrifying because the flames can cause intense bodily harm that results in serious injury and even death. Once the fire is put out, many homeowners are relieved in the sense that the threat to their life or health has ended. However, the flames themselves are not the only potential source of health issues. Many of the byproducts of a fire are toxic. Fires leave behind smoke, soot, corrosive byproducts, and even mold that negatively affects your health. It is important to know the health risks caused by the byproducts of a fire to keep yourself and your family safe in the aftermath.
All fires involve smoke and everyone knows that smoke inhalation is extremely dangerous because of the chemicals it contains. Smoke is the byproduct of incomplete combustion and contains the following toxins:
Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN): The potential health effects of carbon monoxide are well known as many homes have carbon monoxide detectors for safety. Less people know about the risks of the other major chemical in smoke, hydrogen cyanide. Hydrogen cyanide is over 30 times more toxic than carbon monoxide and inhaling a combination of both can be deadly. Smoke inhalation is the leading cause of fire related deaths.
Chemicals from Burnt Materials: When materials such as wood, drywall, and flooring are burned in a fire, they release hundreds of chemicals in the smoke that are harmful to your health. Some of the dangerous chemicals released by burning household materials include hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen chloride, carboxylic acids, nitrogen oxides, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, and much more.
After the fire and smoke have cleared, there is still a substance present that can spread throughout the home and cause health issues as well as property damage; soot. Soot is dangerous because it spreads and settles everywhere including the air ducts where it can get redistributed into the air. Most health problems caused by soot result from inhalation but soot can also get absorbed in the skin and eyes. The main health effects from soot include lung irritation and respiratory issues such as bronchitis and asthma as well as more serious issues including heart attack, stroke, and even cancer.
Few people associate mold growth with house fires but if a house fire is extinguished with water, this excess moisture can quickly lead to mold growth. Moisture is the main cause of mold growth and organic materials that are wet from putting out the fire can become contaminated with mold within 48 hours. Mold not only adds to the health risks already present after a fire, but also causes even more property damage that makes the restoration process longer and more expensive.
If a fire breaks out in your home, make sure that everyone evacuates safely and do not return to your home until it has been restored and deemed safe. The byproducts of a fire are just as dangerous as the fire itself and can cause serious health effects long after the fire has been put out. It is of extreme importance to begin the fire damage restoration as soon as possible by hiring professionals that can safely remove dangerous byproducts from soot and smoke. These professionals have effective cleaning products and personal protective equipment to keep themselves safe during the restoration process
Expert in emergency fire and water restoration services, fire cleanup and water damage cleanup, mold removal, as well as carpet and upholstery cleaning services. Contributor to several restoration and cleaning blogs.
Indoor air quality is important to government agencies, schools, businesses, building staff, and occupants because it can impact both positively and negatively the health, comfort, well being, and productivity of building occupants.
Studies have shown that the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi in and around a building serves as a source of indoor bio-pollutant. World Health Organization (WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality, 2009) concluded
that the most important effect is increased prevalence of respiratory symptoms, allergies and asthma, as well as perturbation of the immunological systems. According to the report building dampness (supporting factor for microbial growth in buildings) varies widely from country to country and climatic zone. Dampness is estimated to affect 10-50% of all indoor environments in North America, Australia, Europe, India, and Japan.
According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) most Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors and many spend most of their working hours in an office environment. Environmental studies conducted by the independent scientific groups, EPA and others have shown that indoor air pollutants levels are greater than levels found outside.
What are some types of indoor air pollutants that may affect my building?
Biological contaminants: the biological contaminants can consist of bacteria, viruses, fungi (mold), dust mite allergen, animal dander, insect biodetritus, fibers and fiberglass, pollen, cockroach allergen, etc… and may result from inadequate maintenance and housekeeping, water spills, inadequate humidity control, condensation, or may be brought into the building by occupants, infiltration, or ventilation air. Allergic responses to indoor biological pollutant exposures cause symptoms in allergic individuals and also play a key role in triggering asthma episodes for an estimated 15 million Americans.
Chemical pollutants: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are organic chemicals. VOCs are numerous, varied, and ubiquitous. They include both human-made and naturally occurring chemical compounds. Chemical pollutants can include tobacco smoke, emissions from products used in the building (e.g., office equipment; furniture, wall and floor coverings e.g. formaldehyde; and cleaning and consumer products) accidental spill of chemicals, and gases such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are products of combustion.
Particles. Particles are solid or liquid substances which are light enough to be suspended in the air, the largest (8 microns and greater) of which may be visible in sunbeams streaming into a room are typically non respirable. However, the smaller particles (7 microns and smaller) that you cannot see are likely to be more harmful to health since these are considered respirable. Particles of dust, dirt, or other substances may be drawn into the building from outside and can also be produced by activities that occur in buildings e.g. operation and maintenance practices, housekeeping practices, printing, copying, operating equipment, construction, remodeling, people….
Is establishing baseline IAQ conditions in my building important?
Yes, as Yogi Berra once said “if you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there?”Indoor air quality is no different. If you don’t know the present IAQ conditions of your building are and you are having IAQ upgrades performed to enhance your buildings IAQ then how would you know that you improved those conditions if you didn’t have a baseline to start with? You wouldn’t.
It is not practical to design a universal guideline fit for all in terms of exposure and health because immunity varies greatly from individual to individual. EDLab at Pure Air Control Services performed a 10 year study analyzing more than 7,000 buildings and over 25,000 environmental samples that were collected across the United States and abroad. The building types included both commercial and residential. The majority of samples analyzed were tested positive for bacteria and fungi.
In this study the average (normal baseline) concentration of air-borne culture-able (viable) bacteria was 175 CFU (Colony Forming Unit)/m3, and the fungal concentration in ambient air was recorded at 350 CFU/m3. The average concentration of non viable air-borne mold/fungal elements was estimated at approximately 1,000 cts (counts)/ m3. These baseline numbers are used as a reliable indicator for an expected average of disseminated microbial (bacteria/fungi only) concentrations in today’s modern buildings.
As the air turns cooler and leaves drop from the trees, it’s important to keep a few important fall safety tips in mind. With proper precautions and safety awareness, your family can enjoy that crisp autumn weather while avoiding some of the dangers that come with the season.
Fire Safety Tips for Fall
When the weather turns cold most people spend more time inside their homes using fireplaces, furnaces, and heaters to keep warm. There’s nothing quite as cozy as a fire, but it presents some safety hazards. Keep these tips in mind
Service Your Furnace
Before the cold autumn and winter weather sets in, be sure to call your heating and cooling company to service your furnace. A specialist should inspect the furnace to make sure everything is in working order and that there are no leaks.
Use Fireplaces Safely
Keep that fire in its proper place by using a fireplace screen to keep sparks from flying out of the fireplace. Never leave a burning fire unattended, and make sure a fire in a fireplace is completely out before going to bed.
Use Caution with Space Heaters
A space heater can be an effective way to warm up a chilly room, but it’s essential that you read the instructions on the unit before you use it. If your space heater requires venting, make sure you have vented it to the outdoors. Never use your stove or oven to heat your home; only use space heaters that are approved for this purpose. Always allow at least three feet of empty area around space heaters.
Reconsider Leaf Burning
According to information from the Environmental Protection Agency, burning leaves produces dangerous and cancer-causing chemicals. For this reason, homeowners should avoid disposing of leaves this way. If you decide to burn leaves, wear a protective mask. Burning leaves should only be attempted far away from a house or other structures on a homeowner’s property. Always check the weather forecast before starting to burn leaves. This activity should not be attempted in windy conditions.
Exercise Candle Caution
Candles are a great way to give a room that warm glow, but they can also cause fires. According to the National Candle Association, almost 10,000 home fires start with improper candle use. Never leave candles burning if you go out or go to sleep, and keep your candles away from pets and kids.
Change Smoke Alarm Batteries
Change the batteries in your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors when you turn back your clocks for Daylight Saving Time. Make sure to check the alarms with the new batteries installed. Check and replace any home fire extinguishers that have expired.
Safety Tips for Fall Driving
There’s nothing more beautiful than a fall drive, but this season brings some unique hazards for drivers. Being aware of these potential dangers can help keep you and your family safe and prevent accidents.
Be Aware of Poor Visibility
Falling leaves, while beautiful, can obscure your vision, as can rain and fog. Shorter days are part of the fall season, making it more difficult to see children playing or people walking and riding bicycles. Be aware of the limitations in your visibility, and slow down if you can’t see well. Use your dimmed headlights in bad weather with decreased visibility. If possible, try not to be on the roads when it’s hard to see.
Watch for Children
Children love to play in piles of leaves, so use extra caution where leaves are piled at curbside. In addition, the school bus will be making its rounds now that school is back in session. In addition to educating children about back-to-school safety, it’s important to stay vigilant as a driver.
Slow Down on Wet Pavement
In many areas of the country, rain is common during the autumn. If it’s raining, keep a safe distance from the car in front of you. Wet roads make it more difficult to stop. When wet leaves are on roadways, they make the pavement slippery, and it can be difficult for drivers to get good traction.
Be Prepared for Bright Sunlight
When sunrise occurs later in the morning, it can also present challenges for drivers. Have a pair of sunglasses in the vehicle to wear when the sun is bright is a good strategy. If it becomes too difficult to see because of bright sunlight or glare, a good strategy is for the driver to pull over until he or she can see again.
Watch Out for Ice
As the temperatures drop further at night, a driver will need to spend some extra time in the morning scraping frost off his or her vehicle. Shady spots on the roadway may be home to black ice, which a driver may not be aware of until his or her car starts to skid on it.
Safety Tips for Fall Boaters
According to a report from the US Coast Guard, autumn boating accidents are far more likely to be fatal than those that occur during the summer months. Although there are many more boating accidents in the summer season, boaters involved in accidents during the fall months are exposed to cold water and other weather hazards. Keep these tips in mind for safe autumn boating.
Be Prepared for Changing Weather
Since fall weather can change quickly, you should always be prepared for possible cold, windy, and wet weather even if the sun is shining. Stay closer to shore, so you can turn back if the weather changes. Bring appropriate clothing, such as warm coats, rain gear, and gloves.
Watch for Signs of Hypothermia
Small open boats combined with cold, wet weather can lead to possible hypothermia. According to the Mayo Clinic, these are a few of the signs you should know:
Shivering or trembling
General lack of coordination, including stumbling and dropping things
Drowsiness, confusion, and apathy
Mumbling and slurring of words
Weak pulse and shallow breathing
Tell Others About Your Trip
Make sure you tell a friend or family member your boating plan and your expected return time. There are fewer boaters in the fall to help in the case of an accident or emergency.
Always Wear Life Jackets
Wearing your life jacket, while always a smart move, is even more important in the fall. If you should accidentally fall overboard, the cold water will quickly drain away your strength.
Autumn Home Maintenance Safety Tips
Fall is the time for yard clean-ups and readying your house for the cold winter ahead. Keep these safety tips in mind as you work.
Look Up Before Pruning Trees
If you have decided that your yard needs to be spruced up by trimming your trees, be sure to look up and survey the area carefully before you start. Make careful note of where power lines are located before you set up your ladder so that it is positioned away from them.
Use Caution on Ladders
Wearing appropriate footwear is important when using a ladder; shoes or boots may be wet, causing you to slip as you climb the ladder. The ladder should be positioned on a flat surface before use. Be sure that the tools you are using are specifically designed for this purpose and are in good condition before starting work.
Clean Up Fallen Leaves
Keep your driveway and walkway clear of falling leaves. Wet leaves can create a hazard for pedestrians in the fall by making sidewalks slippery. Later in the season, snow may mix with leaves to increase the risk of falling. Homeowners should mulch or rake up fallen leaves and dispose of them according to local bylaws.
Safely Enjoy the Beauty of the Season
By keeping these important fall safety tips in mind, you can be sure you are doing everything you can to protect yourself and your family from seasonal dangers. This will leave your mind free to enjoy the beauty of this glorious season.
With wildfires burning throughout the state, in addition to recent local grass fires, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District continues to warn the public about poor air quality, including incidents of severely bad air that may occur sporadically in the coming days.
For a few hours late Saturday, the amount of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the air spiked in Bakersfield and all eight counties across the San Joaquin Valley air district, to a Level 5, the highest level, where all people are advised to remain indoors.
By the next day, Bakersfield had clearer skies and air quality was back down to a moderate range. District officials said winds temporarily pushed smoke into the valley during that several hour period.
“All that pollution literally just inundated the entire San Joaquin Valley,” said Cassandra Melching, outreach and communication representative for the air district.
Because the air can be safe at one point in the day and dangerous at another, depending upon wind flows, Melching said an air quality alert is standing for all areas.
On Saturday, regions farther north in close proximity to the fire were substantially affected, Melching said, with Oakhurst in Madera County reaching a PM 2.5 concentration of 246 micrograms per cubic meter. It takes only 75 micrograms to reach level five risk. Bakersfield hit 87 micrograms that same day.
“We can’t quite say who is going to be impacted the most and when…It doesn’t mean that every single day our air quality is bad,” Melching said.
Glen Stephens, air pollution control officer of the Eastern Kern Air Pollution Control District, said the district has not released any alerts, but is tracking the smoke levels. He said there is less of a concern in eastern Kern County and mountain areas compared to valley locations like Bakersfield, but that there is still poor air quality.
“It’s generally bad. Right now it’s bad because of ozone, not because of the fire,” Stephens said.
The best way to know whether it is safe to be outdoors is by tracking your location on the Valley Air app or online at valley air.org. It is especially important for sensitive groups such as the elderly and those with asthma to remain cautious and updated.
Melching said to also be aware of the potential for ash in the air, which is most likely when temperatures cool down and is not monitored in the air quality levels.
“If you smell smoke, or if you see ash falling, you are being impacted,” Melching said.
Ways to reduce your risk of being affected by the smoke are to limit outdoor exercise, stay hydrated, change your air air filters and keep windows shut.