Materials That Release Toxic Fumes During Fire

Another case of building materials toxicity is related to materials that release toxic fumes during fires. Some studies show that the majority of deaths during fires is due to the inhalation of toxic fumes and that such deaths are increasing since the 1980s, maybe due to the fact that the amount of combustible materials inside households has increased in the last three decades (Gann et al. 1994; Hall and Harwood 1995; Wu 2001; Levin and Kuligowski 2005). Liang and Ho (2007) studied the toxicity during fires of several insulation materials concluding that polyethylene foam and polyurethane foam have a toxicity index (TI) higher than 10, thus meaning extremely high toxicity (Fig. 2.1) levels.

The TI is obtained from the emissions of 14 different combustion gases reaching deadly concentration after 30 minutes exposure. These authors recom­mend that polyethylene and polyurethane foams should not be used unless covered by incombustible materials. Other authors Doroudiani and Omidian (2010) say that polystyrene decorative mouldings should be avoided because polystyrene is a very combustible material that releases toxic fumes during fires. They also say that new polystyrene with flame-retardant properties is now under production, but it also releases other toxic substances.