Property owners and property managers need to face the reality if they have a property that has smoke damage from wildfires. After my last post, A safety video every homeowner in a wildfire area should watchtwo articles i Newspaper Restoration and clean-up should be read by property owners, property managers, restoration contractors and property insurance adjusters.
Dioxins: The most dangerous substance in structure fire environments | Part 1said:
In the fire restoration industry today, very little attention is paid to the toxicity of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy metals, or the composition of particulates and smoke residues. Tens of thousands of toxic chemicals, gases, acids and dangerous substances are created in fire environments. Most concerns regarding toxic or hazardous substances focus primarily on two federally regulated materials: asbestos and lead.
When newer homes or buildings suffer fire damage, testing for all types of hazardous substances is usually considered unnecessary. Sometimes tests will be performed for the presence of soot, char or ash in structures near wildfires. However, it is almost uncommon for this type of testing to be performed to identify the composition of the combustion by-products to determine if any hazardous substances are present.
Fires and forest fires by structure, especially those where plastics, synthetic materials, electronics or PVC have been burned, create extremely dangerous and carcinogenic chemicals that are usually completely overlooked. One chemical in particular, dioxin, is considered by some to be one of the most toxic chemicals known to man.
Not only is this substance extremely toxic to all life, and far more deadly than asbestos or lead, it is also recognized by the World Health Organization as a member of the so-called “Dirty Dozen”; – a group of dangerous chemicals also referred to. such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).
In forest fires or structure fires, the large volume of construction materials, chemicals, pesticides, cleaning agents, vehicle components, electronics, appliances, and household items made with chlorinated products such as PVC create enormous amounts of TCDD. Myriads of other toxic substances are also created in structure fire environments too numerous to list. Unfortunately, few people realize the health risks of exposure to soot, ash or particulates and ignore the need to wear even the most basic personal protective equipment.
Many adverse health effects have been well documented in scientific literature on TCDD. “TCDD is considered the most toxic man-made substance and the fifth most toxic naturally occurring compound known to man. 2,3,7,8-TCDD is a potent toxicant in animals and has the potential to produce a wide range of toxic effects in humans (EPA 1997c)
Dioxins: The Most Dangerous Substance in Structure Fire Environments – Part 2partly:
Given the extreme toxicity of TCDD and the wide range of other toxicants, VOCs, chemicals and particulates in structural fire environments, it could be argued that only those with Hazardous Waste and Emergency Preparedness (HAZWOPER) certification should be allowed to enter or carry out clean-up, demolition or clean-up work in environments after a fire. In addition, most if not all fire environments will have significant amounts of TCDD resulting from the combustion of chlorinated products such as PVC, paper, household chemicals, and other materials. Because federally regulated toxic substances such as lead, mercury, and asbestos pale in comparison to the toxicity of TCDD, restoration practitioners must inform their employees and clients of the health risks of exposure to TCDD.
The bottom line is that fire-damaged structures, including those suffering only smoke damage, are dangerous because of the expected presence of dioxins. Dioxins are far more lethal than other combustion byproducts.
Property owners and property managers have obligations to remove these dangerous and deadly toxins if the property has suffered damage. While I can understand fantasizing that the damage hasn’t happened and that it will be a huge and expensive hassle to clean up and make the property safe to live or work in, this reality must be faced. Likewise, property adjusters must perform the proper tests to determine if the toxin is present. The scientific data shows that this adaptation process must be carried out for every property exposed to fire and smoke damage.
There may be a great fire in our hearts, but no one ever comes to warm it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.
-Vincent van Gogh