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The Hidden Dangers of Soot

Posted on November 01, 2017
by Melissa Asplund

According to Cal Fire, the devastating fires in Northern California burned more than 245,000 acres, destroyed an estimated 8,800 structures, and killed 42 people. Unfortunately, the restoration process has just begun and will be a long journey back to normality. While most people are aware of the steps that need to be taken towards rehabilitation of the community, it is common to overlook an extremely important factor: the dangers of soot.

Soot is extremely fine particles that are 1/30 the diameter of a human hair. These particles are composed of carbon due to the lack of combustion of coal, wood, oil, or other fuels. Even after a fire is contained, the smoke generated can continue to spread throughout an entire property to areas where fire was not present. Airborne smoke particles travel on residual heat drafts to come in contact with interiors and surfaces after a fire is put out. The color of soot can vary from black to brownish-yellow.

According to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, soot can contain acids, chemicals, and heavy metals from batteries, paints, flammable liquids, asbestos siding, and pipe insulation. Based on past assessments of burned houses, prevalent heavy metals are arsenic, copper, lead, and zinc as well as the presence of asbestos from commonly used building materials such as stucco, sheetrock, joint compound, cement pipes, and exterior home siding. Soot can also contain formaldehyde, sulfur dioxide, and hydrogen cyanide. It is hazardous at any exposure level due to its corrosive and acidic nature.

A heavy rain can transport these harmful substances (called acid rain) to effect rivers, storm drains, water quality, and create damages to soil and crops – leading harmful toxins to reach people and organisms. Watery eyes, runny nose, and coughing are all symptoms of being effected by toxic soot. Effected immune system, respiratory problems, and heart conditions can all be results from soot exposure. The combination of size and toxicity can allow a soot particle to enter deep into the lung and cause serious damage.

In addition to its many health hazards, soot creates an unpleasant, lingering odor that is highly difficult to remove. Rooms in the structure that were not touched by fire may contain soot due to travel through the HVAC system. Filters cannot catch everything and soot particles are so small in size that they pass through a standard filter. Soot may linger in the duct system for months undetected. Breathing these particles is detrimental to your health and can lead to lung irritation and possible scarring of the alveoli.

Soot is easy to transfer to other surfaces and should be cleaned using special equipment and professional techniques. It should never be wiped and cleaned with common household cleaning products as the soot and hazardous materials may spread and conditions may worsen.

Airtek Indoor Air Solutions is an indoor air quality specialist approved by the National Air Duct Cleaning Association (NADCA). Airtek’s sister company, Alliance Environmental Group, is trained in hazardous material abatement, such as asbestos, lead, mold, and more. Therefore, Airtek is fully qualified and equipped to handle and commercial or residential sized job relating to these materials. For a free air duct cleaning estimate or specialized air duct cleaning involving wildfire soot, please call 1-877-858-6213 today.

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