Building on fire

New Research Foundation research “Environmental Impact of Fires in the Built Environment: Emission Factors” provide updated emission factors for a range of fire conditions and building materials

The Fire Protection Research Foundation (FPRF), the research affiliate of NFPA®, recently published a research report on the “Environmental impact of fires in the built environment: Emission factors”. This study updated existing emission factors (EFs) for a range of fire conditions and developed new EFs for relevant building materials to produce a database that can be built upon with future research. The research report along with the database is available from the FPRF website.

With the increase in human population and as new levels of contamination of scarce resources are revealed, the concern for the health of the natural environment is growing. Current efforts to improve the sustainability of buildings focus on increasing energy efficiency and reducing embodied carbon. This strategy overlooks the fact that a fire event could reduce the overall sustainability of a building through the release of pollutants and the environmental impact of the subsequent rebuild. Most fires occurring in the built environment contribute to air contamination from the fire plume (whose deposition is likely to subsequently include land and water contamination), contamination from water runoff containing toxic products, and other environmental discharges or releases from burned materials.

In 2020, the FPRF undertook a study that developed a research road map identifying research needs to be able to quantify the environmental impact of fire from the built environment and its economic consequences, where lack of relevant data concerning emissions was identified as one of several pressing needs. In the wake of the development of the research road map, the FPRF initiated a follow up research to develop a database of existing emission factors for a range of fire conditions and the development of some new EFs for building materials. Details of which material have been studied was determined through a combination of factors, including typical materials used to describe buildings in LCA models, materials identified in a separate French research project (funded by the French Ministry of the Environment in the context of the annual funding for INERIS), and a database of prior experiments characterizing a number of existing materials.

Special focus was placed on scaling to investigate the predictive capabilities of small-scale test methods for development of EFs for large-scale conditions. This report provides details of large-scale and small-scale experiments conducted at INERIS (France) and small-scale experiments conducted at Lund University (Sweden), in 2019-2020 spanning a period of approximately 18 months. In addition to conducting experiments to confirm existing data and develop new data, a database of existing experimental data relevant for the development of EFs has been created containing some 90 products and materials. This database represents the first up-to-date published resource with a collation of emission factors for a broad variety of species to the best knowledge of the authors.

The findings from this study were presented through FPRF 2022 webinar series on May 18, 2022. The webinar recording is available on-demand here.

The Fire Protection Research Foundation is celebrating its 40th year in existence in 2022. Read more about this noteworthy milestone.

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Sreenivasan Ranganathan
Director, Research Foundation, Mission to plan, manage and communicate research in support of the NFPA mission

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