Is a chemical fire worse than an ordinary fire?
Many people think that smoke from a fire involving chemicals is much more dangerous than smoke from an ordinary fire. An understandable thought, but the difference is often minor. All smoke can be harmful; there is no such thing as clean smoke. Smoke that doesn’t come from a fire also contains poisonous substances. When chemical substances, waste, paper, uncontaminated wood, candles, incense, tobacco or garden waste are burnt they all release chemical substances.
Our advice is to create as little smoke as possible. And that includes fire baskets, barbecues or wood-burning stoves.
There is a greater risk of dioxins forming in a chemical fire. But dioxins even form during a forest fire or heathland fire, just as they do in house fires.
Could there be asbestos in smoke?
If there are asbestos cement sheets or sheets of corrugated asbestos cement in a building, they could crack and break when heated, releasing fragments of asbestos cement. These fragments could be carried along by the smoke that rises above the fire. They will land elsewhere, sometimes close to the fire, sometimes up to a hundred metres away. Often large shards of the sheets or corrugated sheets are found close to the fire.
When the sheets crack, little asbestos fibres are also released. This is known as primary emission. These fibres float away with the smoke. These are almost always very small quantities of fibres, so the additional risk of asbestos in smoke is zero.
The shards and shreds of the sheets and corrugated sheets can break if they are walked or driven over. People may then carry it indoors on their shoes. This is known as secondary exposure. After that, individual asbestos fibres could be released indoors. Inhaling large quantities of individual asbestos fibres over a longer period of time can be risky.
Pay attention to reports (on teletext, social media or NL-Alert) linked to the spread of asbestos due to a fire in your neighbourhood. Follow the instructions to prevent secondary exposure to asbestos.