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Environmental impact of fire - Research road map

Concern for the health of the natural environment is growing as human population grows and as new levels of contamination of scarce resources are revealed. Current efforts to improve the sustainability of buildings focus on increasing energy efficiency and reducing the embodied carbon. This overlooks the fact that a fire event could reduce the overall sustainability of a building through the release of pollutants and the subsequent re-build.

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. The environmental impact also has economic consequences for communities and regions and while the direct and indirect costs of fire on a community can be devastating, they are not usually reported at a local scale beyond an account of the human deaths and injuries and the amount of property destroyed or damaged.

To calculate the true cost of fire to society we need to be able to quantify the impact fire has not only on the people or structures involved but also to the environment. Studies have been done to examine the environmental impact of fire but we cannot yet fully quantify this impact and its consequences to the local economy.

Research goal: Develop a research road map identifying needed research to be able to quantify the environmental impact of fire from the built environment and its economic consequences. This project will focus on structure fires and exclude wildland and wildland urban interface (WUI) fires.