Environmental Pollutants

Fire, smoke and your health

What are the health risks from smoke?
  • Smoke is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. It poses a health risk whatever its source.
  • The main risk from smoke is from air particles which act as an irritant. This can cause burning eyes, a runny nose and sore throat. The smallest particles can be inhaled causing difficulty breathing and coughing. These particles can worsen existing heart and lung conditions.
  • Larger air particles from smoke can fall to the ground and cover objects outside such as cars, playground equipment, vegetables, etc.
  • Sometimes a particular substance found at the site of a fire can be released in the smoke and pose a health hazard.
  • Weather conditions, such as barometric pressure, wind speed and wind direction can also affect the concentrations of substances in the air and can impact the health risk.
  • Once a fire is over and the smoke is gone, usually there are no longer any health risks for the general population. In general, there are no long term health effects associated with fires.
  • People who have heart or lung conditions, however, need to take extra care even after the fire is over since they are especially sensitive. Particles from the fire can be present in the air in low amounts for a few days after the fire. Sensitive individuals need to pay attention to their symptoms. If the symptoms are severe then medical treatment should be sought.
What precautions should people take during a fire?
  • While the fire is burning or smoke is in the air, it is best to stay indoors.
  • Keep your windows and doors closed unless it is extremely hot.
  • If you have an air conditioner, keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean.
  • Follow any directions given by the police or fire departments.
  • Residents in the area of a fire who have existing heart or lung conditions (including asthma or other breathing problems, chronic obstructive lung disease) should take extra precautions to minimize their exposure.

What precautions should I take after a fire?
  • Before turning your air conditioner or heating system back on, check the filter to make sure it is clean.
  • Residents who have vegetable/fruit gardens that have soot on them should thoroughly wash any produce with soap and water before eating.
  • Outdoor equipment and children's toys with soot on them should be washed with soap and water.
  • Take off your shoes when entering the home to prevent bringing soot in from the outside.
  • Parents should ensure that when children have been playing outside they wash their hands well, especially before eating.
  • If your power was out for more than 4 hours be sure to check the food in your fridge and freezer. Advice on food and power outages can be found at: http://www.toronto.ca/fire/prevention/power_outage.htm

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