Fire Related Particles – Part 2

Why Test for Fire-related Particles

Disputes over insurance coverage for fire damages often arise in the context of partial losses. Partial losses typically include not only visible fire damage but smoke and water damage as well. The damage can arise from a house fire in the neighborhood, or from wild-fires. The United States has been experiencing an escalating number of catastrophic-scale wild-fires in the past 20 years, in particular in the South and South-West. Testing can also be useful in catastrophic situations such as natural gas explosions and refinery fires such as have occurred recently in California. The IESO/RIA standard 6001 provides a procedure and measure to objectively determine if fire-related aerosols have impacted the HVAC system of a building. Similar methodology can also be used to examine other surfaces in a structure, including walls, painted surfaces and siding.

Hazardous Materials and Fire-source Identification

It is not the purpose of the IESO/RIA Standard 6001 to describe or provide methodology to determine if hazardous materials are deposited in the char and soot or to identify the fire source. Fortunately, EMLab P&K with our partner lab, MicroVision Laboratories, Inc., is able to provide services that can address those issues. After initial analysis by polarized light microscopy, the use of scanning electron microscopy (SEM) in combination with energy dispersive spectrometry allows the lab to provide information on the elemental composition of fire-related particles. Additionally, fine soots below the optical resolution limit of light microscopes can be imaged and documented. Sample types that may be submitted include composite Micro-Vac cassettes, wipe samples and tape lifts.

When energy dispersive spectrometry is added to the high-resolution SEM analysis, the elemental composition of the particles can be determined. This may be helpful to determine the fire-source as well as detect hazardous material in the particle material. This cutting-edge technology and methodology can also resolve less obvious and more complicated claims such as residues from oil, coal or biomass-fired power plants. Several industries can benefit from this service, including homeowners and inspectors, insurance adjusters, law and environmental management firms, the oil and gas industry, and many others.

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About the author: Joe Fiorilli