The killing fumes in building fires. Why should smoke toxicity from building materials be tested?

Jun 30, 2015 | News, Smoke Toxicity

European Parliament, Brussels | 30th June 2015

Fire safety experts, health specialists and fire fighters called on the European Union to take urgent action on fire smoke toxicity testing.

Fires in European buildings cause over 4000 deaths and 70000 hospitalisations per year, and more than half of those deaths are caused not by the fire directly but by its smoke.

“Fire smoke contains a lethal cocktail of toxicants, yet there are no European regulations or testing protocols covering the smoke toxicity of construction materials,” reported Prof. Richard Hull, fire toxicity expert from the University of Central Lancashire, at a high-level meeting of fire safety experts organised by Fire Safe Europe, the European Fire Fighters Union Alliance and MEPs Pavel Poc and Christel Schaldemose.

“Lives are being unnecessarily put at risk by failing to address this issue,” said Mr Poc. “The inhalation of fire smoke causes chronic long-term health problems and is the tragic cause of far too many deaths in building fires.”

Mrs Schaldemose added: “The mechanism is already in place to introduce smoke toxicity testing for construction materials, so it is an unprecedented opportunity for the EU to take coordinated action on this issue.”

Deadly fumes also make the work of fire fighters highly dangerous. “Toxic smoke from these products is not only putting our health at risk — it’s also preventing us from saving the lives of others,” said Tommy Kjaer of the European Fire Fighters Union Alliance. “Europe’s politicians need to address this issue urgently.”

“As medical doctors, we do our best to save lives and we have European guidelines for it” added Marc Sabbe, professor in emergency and disaster medicine at the Catholic University of Leuven, “but there should be European guidelines to prevent deaths too”.