Thursday, June 30, 2011

Environmental fallout from wildfires and related IAQ concerns

Wildfires have a long-lasting effect on
the environment and human health.Wildfires leave much more behind than fire-scarred buildings, ash and a swath of destruction.

As homeowners and business owners all over North America return to the regions that were affected by wildfires raging in Utah, Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Alaska and Alberta (see AllerAir's Q&A blog post), experts are worried about the environmental legacy they will encounter.

"If there's a really heavy fire and you burn up plastic ... you'll end up with some of that residual, partially burnt plastic in the soil," said Anne Naeth, a biologist and expert in land reclamation at the University of Alberta, in a recent article from The Canadian Press.

Not only were houses and businesses burnt to the ground, wildfires also claimed vehicles, gas stations and other sources of inorganic and organic toxins.

Many of those compounds, including zinc, lead, mercury, copper, cadmium from burned wiring, piping, auto parts, broken lights and thermometers; dioxins and furans from burning tires; PCBs and PAHs, probably phthalates and polybrominated compounds from other burned plastics, upholstery, etc may dissipate quickly, experts say.

Exposure to heavy metals a concern

However, the article cites one of the few studies done on the environmental impact of wildfires in residential areas, which suggests that heavy metals will probably stick around. The U.S. Geological Survey looked into what happened after fires in southern California roared through residential developments in 2007.

"For arsenic, lead and antimony, concentrations in one or both of the residential composite ash samples approach or exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency residential soil preliminary remediation guidelines," the report says.

The study also found elevated levels of chromium. As well, it found the remaining ash was so alkaline it was caustic — significantly more so than ash from woodland fires.

Exposure to heavy metals has been linked with developmental retardation, various cancers and kidney damage.

Environmental experts also voiced concerns about damaged soil, since the heat bakes the clay component of dirt almost as if firing it in a kiln, leaving it unable to absorb water.

Source: Canadian Press

Indoor air quality may suffer after wildfire

Wildfire smoke poses a very serious health risk as 80 to 90% of wildfire smoke is within the fine particle range. These fine particles are generally less than 2.5 microns in diameter and can penetrate deep into the body. 

An increase in this type of airborne particulate matter has been linked to numerous health problems including headaches, nausea, dizziness, respiratory problems, strokes and heart attacks.

Children, pregnant women, those suffering from existing respiratory conditions and older adults are even more susceptible to the effects of wildfire smoke particulate.

Smoke can also travel far beyond the main burn zone. Studies show that even a small increase in airborne fine particulate matter can affect overall health.

Air cleaners for better indoor air quality

AllerAir and Electrocorp offer air filtration systems with high efficiency particle filters and deep-bed activated carbon filters to remove harmful chemicals, particles and odors associated with tobacco and wildfire smoke.

Clients can choose from powerful air purifiers for the home and office to industrial-strength units for use in various commercial and industrial applications.

Call 1-866-667-0297 to contact Electrocorp.

View the original article here

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