EcoWaste Coalition Cautions the Public against Inhaling Toxic Smoke During Fires

With the onset of the annual “Fire Prevention Month,” an environmental watchdog promoting chemical safety and zero waste alerted the public about the danger of being exposed to fire smoke.

“Smoke from fires, which is made up of chemicals and particles from burning materials, is hazardous to health and should be avoided,” said Aileen Lucero, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition.

“Depending on what is burning, which is often a combination of mixed combustible materials, the smoke can cause or even worsen health problems, particularly for young children, the elderly and persons with heart and respiratory conditions and those with chemical sensitivities,” she said.

The EcoWaste Coalition aired the warning in support of the fire safety campaign being undertaken by the Department of Interior and Local Government – Bureau of Fire Protection (DILG-BFP).

“Besides reminding our communities to prevent fire at home or workplace through good housekeeping, we find it necessary for the public to be informed about the need to avoid exposure to smoke when there is a fire,” Lucero observed. 

“Oftentimes, we see victims and spectators standing close to the fire scene and directly breathing in the toxic smoke,” she added.

Aside from carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and dust particles or soot, smoke may contain a variety of air pollutants, including
acid gases, benzene, heavy metals, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, sulfur dioxide and persistent organic pollutants such as dioxins, which are formed when materials containing chlorine are burned, the EcoWaste Coalition said.

According to the World Health Organization, “air pollutants have been linked to a range of adverse health effects, including respiratory infections, cardiovascular diseases and lung cancer.”

Exposure to smoke can have immediate effects such as coughing, a harsh throat, irritated sinuses, headaches, nausea, runny nose and tearing eyes, while those with heart conditions may experience chest pain, fatigue, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath.

n a bid to reduce the negative health consequences of exposure to smoke, the EcoWaste Coalition urged the public to consider the following health and safety suggestions:

1.  Stay away from the fire source, take precautions and avoid exposure to intense and even to low or moderate  smoke.

2.  If you are within a safe distance from a burning building, factory or residence requiring no evacuation, stay indoors and shut the doors and windows to prevent smoke from entering your place.

3.  Switch off the air conditioner until the air quality outside has improved.

4.  If you need to go outside, find a suitable respiratory protection to minimize exposure to harmful gases and particles, bearing in mind that bandannas, handkerchiefs or dust masks may not be effective in filtering out very fine particles.

5.  Refrain from cigarette smoking, which can only exacerbate pollution in the fire area.

“We hope that our fire fighters as well as rescue volunteers are properly supported with tools to keep them safe from pollution hazards inherent in their life-saving job,” Lucero said.

“It’s also important for the public to follow the instructions from the crowd control authorities and keep the streets and alleys accessible to the fire respondents,” she added.