Air Quality Concerns On A Fire Damage Jobsite
Restoration contractors are aware that air pollution and chemical exposure is unhealthy, but when the crew shows up on the job site they quickly become more concerned about physical cleanup and content removal on a fire loss than they are with the air quality and health and safety concerns.
The air following in a structure fire or even a sewage backup is a health hazard. In addition to the particles, ash, and soot, there is mix of various volatile organic chemicals, toxic hydrocarbons, hydrogen cyanide, etc. that can result in irritation and damage to the respiratory system. Illnesses, especially respiratory related one like asthma, can be aggravated, and there is even the potential for an increase in the risk of a heart attack. These chemicals, even when you can’t see or smell them, can threaten the restoration contractors, onsite personnel, and occupants.
Over the past few years, restoration contractors have become better informed and educated regarding the science and importance of air filtration and air quality. As a result, air scrubbers have become much more prevalent on water losses, mold remediation, and especially fire jobs. The IICRC S500 Standard and Reference Guide for Professional Water Damage Restoration even states that restorers can install one or more air filtration devices, depending upon the size, layouts, and obstructions within the structure. These devices provide airflow and circulation while simultaneously removing particulates from the air within a confined or enclosed space.
Using Proper Air Filtration for Odor Removal
Air scrubbers work by a blower motor passing high volumes of air rapidly through multiple stages of particulate filtration. Traditional pleated filters are used for the larger airborne particulates and HEPA filters are used to remove the fine particulates in the submicron range. Air scrubbers are rated by the number of cubic feet per minute of air that pass through it and contractors typically target two to four air exchanges per hour on the job site (varies on job type and conditions).
Since air scrubbers work on filtering materials by size, it does have its limitations. Many of the toxic and noxious gasses and odors are smaller than what can be caught by even HEPA filtration technology. Chemicals from smoke, corrosive gasses, fumes, odor molecules all can pass right through the HEPA filter.
Some devices add in solid sorbents or filters with solid sorbents included, most commonly carbons, which capture air pollutants by means of physical properties. Such filters have only limited removal capacities and often no destructive capabilities resulting in the odor chemical contaminants being released back into the environment which is a major drawback of traditional sorbent-based filtration systems and the main factor limiting their wider use and acceptance.
Removing Smoke Odors & Gasses From a Home with Fire Damage
Technology that can be used to defend against chemical warfare agents, HAZMAT/First Responder applications and anti-terrorism has been quietly in use for a few years now in the disaster restoration industry in air scrubbers. This technology has been implemented into filter-like air cartridges that can use a process called “adsorptive neutralization” to attack toxic and noxious chemicals as they pass through the air scrubber. The technology is based on metal oxides which are known for their safe properties but are not typically deployed for chemical mitigation because conventional metal oxides are not efficient. Advancements in metal oxide chemistry science have resulted in ways to increase the surface area of the materials. This increased surface area is used for the chemical interactions that lead to the odor molecules being destroyed more effectively. Since the process removes and destructively absorbs airborne odor-causing molecules and retains them inside a cartridge without releasing odors, fragrances, or chemicals, it is safer than methods like ozone, fogging, and generators. If the desired outcome is to eliminate odors and toxic and noxious chemicals from the environment, it is counterproductive to be generating and releasing them as a countermeasure.
Remember all restoration job sites with chemicals and odors should start with treating what is in the air and locating and removing the source.