Smoke is made up of gasses and other airborne particles both solid and liquid emitted when a material undergoes incomplete combustion. We can also term it as the by-product of fire. Smoke may originate from different places like, within the cabin, ground fire and in pressure hulls. Smoke can contain different chemicals, including acid gasses, Carbon dioxide, Aldehydes, Nitrogen oxides, metals, benzene, toluene, styrene, dioxins and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
The product of combustion depends on various factors ranging from, availability of oxygen, the type of fuel, the rate of combustion, the burn temperature and the fire suppression agents in use. The toxicity of the smoke being produced will also vary due to this. There are two broad categories of smoke gasses namely the irritants and the immediately hazardous (Smoke Gasses, 2015).
The irritant smoke group comprises of aclorein and Hydrogen Chloride, which are obtained after burning cabin materials, and other electrical insulation materials. All burning materials containing carbon will produce hazardous Carbon Monoxide (CO) that is odorless and replaces oxygen being used in heating to yield carbon Dioxide. The process reduces the amount of oxygen in a cabin atmosphere thus increasing the rates of respiration. As a result, people take in a greater amount of unwanted gasses including carbon monoxide without knowing. The irritant smoke gasses can induce pain, cause disorientation and choking.
The instantaneous hazardous gas occurring as part of smoke inside a cabin is Hydrogen Cyanide (HCN) in addition to Carbon Monoxide.HCN gives off a faint scent of almond, which one cannot easily identify during a fire as opposed to Carbon Monoxide, which is odorless. The gas mainly originates by combustion of Nitrogen compounds, wool, and even silk. These fuels contain a combination of Nitrogen (N) and Hydrogen (H) atoms. The gas is produced at minimal oxygen inefficiency. However, at high oxygen efficiency and high temperatures, HCN undergoes oxidation to yield oxides of Nitrogen and even CO (Smoke Gasses, 2015).
It should get to our understanding that smoke comprises of two major gasses: Carbon Monoxide (CO) and Hydrogen Cyanide gas (HCN) among other compounds and gasses. Both gasses are formed during burning where the oxygen is minimal. These gasses work in different ways, as for Carbon Monoxide, once inhaled, it attaches to Oxygen molecules in the body preventing clean Oxygen from reaching essential organs especially the lungs. The impact of Carbon Monoxide intake can lead to various medical problems including respiratory irritation and may worsen other medical conditions like diseases of the heart and asthma after a given length of exposure due to insufficient oxygen supply.
Hydrogen Cyanide, on the other hand, interferes with the Central nervous system, thyroid glands, cardiovascular system and the blood causing disorientation or one to fill agitated. Exposure to these gasses will impersonate the signs of a Cardiac related emergency in the long run. Therefore, HCN is believed to be the most dangerous gas found in smoke because its action mechanism is to kill the organs immediately or after chronic exposure (Hasegawa, 1990).
Hasegawa, H. K. (1990). Characterization and Toxicity of smoke Philadelphia, PA: ASTM
Smoke Gasses, (2015). Sky Brary. Retrieved January 26, 2017, http://www.skybrary.aero/index.php/Smoke_Gasses
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