Cleaning fire-contaminated contents. Following a structure fire, a number of unseen chemicals can be found in the affected contents. However, some of the cleaning processes used can pose a risk to children, so additional testing may be required. (Photo: S. Scott)

During a structure fire, toxic smoke, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and particulate matter are generated from the vast array of building materials, contents and household products that combust. These chemicals interact with each other to create a vast array of carcinogens, poisonous gasses, acids and other toxins that can cause acute and chronic illnesses, cancer and even death. Some are so toxic that the EPA has designated them as having a zero level of permissible exposure limit (PEL).

Clothing, textiles and other types of soft goods often act like VOC sponges and are highly susceptible to smoke saturation, retention and contamination during and after a fire, which prompts the question:  Can clothing and other types of soft goods damaged by smoke really be completely decontaminated and restored? Can ozone, laundry detergents, and dry-cleaning chemicals remove or neutralize every one of the thousands of chemicals that may be created in a fire? If so, how can we assure consumers that the restoration techniques are effective and the cleaning chemicals themselves are safe?

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