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Understanding the dangers posed by chemical asphyxiants

Oftentimes, the Quincy clients that we assist here at Giarrusso Norton Cooley & McGlone, P.C. are surprised to learn that the most significant dangers posed by fire are unseen. As fire breaks materials down, compounds are released into the air that affect your ability to breathe, causing you to pass out. It is important that you understand how asphyxiants affect your body to avoid injury and spot where an inefficient evacuation plan could place you in danger.

Chemical asphyxiants can affect you in one of two ways: through changing the chemical composition of the air or affecting the way oxygen is absorbed into your body. According to the website ChemicalSpill.org, the normal concentration of oxygen in the air is 21 percent. When fire causes chemicals to be released into the air, the resultant chemical imbalance reduces that percentage of oxygen. This, in turn, impedes your ability to breathe and leads to asphyxiation. The physical manifestations of a decrease in the oxygen content in the air are classified by the four stages of asphyxiation. These are:

  •          First: Rapid pulse, impeded motor functions; manifest at 20.9 - 19.5 percent oxygen concentration.
  •          Second: Fatigue, impaired judgment; manifest at 19.5 – 12 percent oxygen concentration.
  •          Third: Nausea and vomiting, possible brain damage; manifest at 10 – 6 percent oxygen concentration.
  •          Fourth: Respiratory failure, death; manifest at less than 6 percent oxygen.

Asphyxiants themselves can impede the way that oxygen is absorbed in your blood. Combustion produces carbon monoxide, which, when inhaled, produces a majority of the deaths in fires. It is this exposure to asphyxiants which requires the need for an adequate fire evacuation plan. The failure to have such a plan in place may put you, your family, or your coworkers at greater risk.

You can find more information on fire-related injuries on our site. 

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Giarrusso Norton Cooley & McGlone, P.C.
Marina Bay
308 Victory Road
Quincy, MA 02171

Phone: 617-770-2900
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