First report on sublethal effects of smoke available from NIST

November 16, 2001

Fire survivors know that "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" is more than a Broadway show-stopping song; in fires, it's a life-stopping threat. Smoke inhalation is the leading cause of U.S. fire deaths. Even exposure to smoke in less-than-deadly amounts can be harmful to fire fighters and occupants of buildings, airplanes, etc.

Additionally, it may cause someone to choose a dangerous escape route, reduce his or her escape speed, or even render a person unable to escape (incapacitation). Under industrial support through the National Fire Protection Association's Fire Protection Research Foundation, a NIST and NFPA fire safety research team recently published the first progress report of a multiyear initiative to define what is known about these sublethal effects of smoke.

Richard Gann of NIST's Building and Fire Research Laboratory and project director said, "Fire risk and hazard analyses that underestimate smoke effects can result in less-than-the-intended degree of public safety. On the other hand, overestimation can bias the distribution and regulation of construction and furnishing materials, constrain and distort building design options, and drive up construction costs. Sound scientific information on this topic can only help product manufacturers, public policy makers and the American population as a whole."

The report, International Study of the Sublethal Effects of Fire Smoke on Survival and Health: Phase I Final Report (NIST Technical Note 1439), includes the first estimates of the magnitude and impact of sublethal exposures to fire smoke on people in the United States; an evaluation of the best available lethal and incapacitation values for smoke; the first methodology for relating smoke lethality data for laboratory rats to incapacitation data for people; a look at how various sizes of fires may produce smoke yields leading to sublethal health effects; and state-of-the-art information on the production of the condensed components of smoke from fires and their changes during transport from the fire. The report also identifies further smoke research needed to improve the quality of fire hazard and risk assessment.
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NIST Technical Note 1439 is available for downloading in Adobe Acrobat format at http://www.bfrl.nist.gov/top/Whats_new.htm" (web address is case sensitive). Contact Gann at 301-975-6866 or richard.gann@nist.gov for project information.

National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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