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Emissions of hazardous compounds from fires

Emissies van schadelijke stoffen bij branden


During the last decade the Environmental Incident Service of the RIVM has measured the levels of hazardous airborne compounds and deposited particles at more than fifty major fires. These data have been systematically classified with the aim of determining the types and levels of hazardous compounds released in fires of specific materials, such as plastics, wood and chemical waste. Literature data from incineration experiments and field measurements carried out near fires were also used. The results of this study are summarized in a concise and practical table that gives the types and amounts of substances, both gaseous and particle bound, released in fires of certain materials. The table can be used by fire brigades and environmental measuring services to determine the appropriate measuring strategy for fires and to make a risk assessment of people exposed to the smoke. The study shows that all fires generate substantial amounts of the common combustion products, including carbon monoxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and fine particles. Other components are only released from the combustion of specific materials - for example, hydrogen chloride and dioxins from the combustion of polyvinyl chloride. Ambient air concentrations of emitted compounds are always increased downwind of the fire, even up to a few hundred meters from the source. This does not, however, imply by definition that those people exposed run enhanced health risks. At distances of 1 km or more from the fire concentrations are at a normal level, or only slightly elevated. The deposition of particles emitting from fires - with the exception of very large fires or special fires - barely results in any environmental contamination. Measurement data are scarce on a number of compounds that may be formed in a fire and which are potentially risky, such as isocyanates, bromine containing fire retardants, nitrogen- and sulphur-containing PAHs, furans, nitriles, hydrogen bromide and hydrogen fluoride. More insight into the behaviour of these compounds and their emission from fires as well as their impact on both the environment and health of human beings is desired. Adequate methods for measuring the concentrations of these compounds near fires also need to be developed.

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