NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - 28

Research by Birgitte Messerschmidt

THE GLOBAL
VIEW ON FIRE
RESEARCH

Full Effect
THE ONLY WAY TO UNDERSTAND THE OVERALL EFFECTS OF FIRE IS THROUGH A
MORE DETAILED ASSESSMENT OF ITS ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

ast year, the world
Estimating the consequences of fire's
watched in horror as
environmental impact is incredibly
Notre Dame Cathedral in
multifaceted and includes emissions to
Paris went up in flames
air, soil, and water. Every fire produces
and partially collapsed.
smoke, which includes carbon monoxide
While many observers understandably
and carbon dioxide, soot, and particufocused on the prospects of losing valulates. Depending on what is burning,
able and irreplaceable historical artifacts,
the smoke can include many other toxic
another big problem was playing out: a
gases and substances, all of which can
potential environmental disaster.
be dispersed over large areas. Currently,
The cathedral's roof, which was
we don't have a sufficiently accurate
destroyed in the fire, contained more
picture of the quantities of these emisthan 200 tons of lead. As it melted in
sions-and even if we did, we don't yet
the blaze, toxic lead oxide was dispersed
know what levels of exposure of certain
The environmental
with the smoke and settled on surfaces
chemicals are tolerable to the environeffects of fire must be
and into the soil across Paris. An invesment, leaving us unable to set policies
considered if we hope
tigation a month after the fire found
for what is acceptable. In addition to
to obtain a complete
that lead levels in some public spaces,
smoke, runoff from fire extinguishpicture of its overall
including streets and plazas, were 60
ing activities can pollute local water
times greater than what is deemed safe.
sources, and the debris from the fire
impact on us.
Soil contamination in public parks and
itself can be a toxic hazard.
contamination of the river Seine was also
It's not just large fires we need to
of concern.
consider-the thousands of small fires
While there's no doubt that loss of life
that occur daily around the world impact
and property are the immediate concerns during a fire, the Notre their local environments as well, and the cumulative effect of
Dame incident is a good example of why researchers and public these events is not well understood. The recent Foundation
officials must consider all of fire's potential effects if they hope to study emphasized the need to develop cost-based impact modelobtain a complete picture of its impact. This broader impact has ing to quantify the investments necessary to better mitigate the
not traditionally been captured or measured in our reports from potentially costly environmental impacts of fires. The fundaNFPA Research, largely because high-quality data to measure mental building blocks of such cost models are available, but
these effects is scarce and because there are no standardized the aforementioned input data is incomplete or out of date.
ways to collect it. But we are working to change that.
This study and the related work that will come from it are
"Research Roadmap: Environmental Impact of Fires in the critical. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits, a
Built Environment," a recently published study managed by the better understanding of the impact of fire relative to other sociFire Protection Research Foundation, paves the way to improv- etal challenges will help policymakers make informed decisions
ing our understanding in these areas. As part of the project, a about the public safety investments that should be prioritized,
team of researchers from Sweden, France, and the United States and where we can get the most benefit. At NFPA we will use
developed a state-of-the-art summary of what we know about this research roadmap to guide our future efforts and investthe environmental impact of fires and included a research road- ments in this important and emerging area. To read the report,
map proposal to close identified gaps. The study identified the visit nfpa.org/environmentalimpact.
critical need for research, with the lack of data being perhaps
the most significant hindrance.
Birgitte Messerschmidt is director of the Applied Research Group at NFPA.

MICHAEL HOEWELER

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28 | NFPA JOURNAL * M A Y / J U N E 2 0 2 0

Research_05.20_V2.indd 28

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http://nfpa.org/environmentalimpact

NFPA Journal - May/June 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of NFPA Journal - May/June 2020

Contents
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NFPA Journal - May/June 2020 - Contents
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