Definition, Uses, and Sources of Smoke

  • Smoke is a suspension of airborne particulates and gases emitted during combustion or pyrolysis.
  • It can be produced by fires, stoves, candles, engines, lamps, and fireplaces.
  • Smoke is used for pest control, communication (smoke signals), military purposes (smoke screen), cooking, and smoking.
  • It is also used in rituals and as a flavoring agent and preservative.
  • Smoke from burning coal in power plants and forest fires can contribute to ambient air pollution.
  • Cigarette smoke is a major risk factor for lung disease, heart disease, and cancer.
  • Different sources of combustion produce characteristic components in smoke.
  • Wood smoke contains guaiacol, syringol, and other methoxy phenols.
  • Forest fires produce retene, an indicator of conifer tree pyrolysis.
  • Vehicle exhaust smoke contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, hopanes, steranes, and specific nitroarenes.
  • Polymers are a significant source of smoke, with different types of polymers generating varying amounts of smoke.

Chemical and Particle Composition of Smoke

  • The composition of smoke depends on the burning fuel and combustion conditions.
  • Fires with high oxygen availability produce mostly ash particles or condensed water aerosols.
  • Lack of oxygen leads to the production of toxic compounds like carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide.
  • Halogens present in materials like PVC or flame retardants can produce harmful gases.
  • Pyrolysis of certain materials can result in the formation of carcinogens and toxic compounds.
  • Smoke contains solid particles, liquid droplets, and gases.
  • The visible particulate matter is mainly composed of carbon (soot).
  • Other particles may include drops of condensed tar, ash particles, metal oxides, and inorganic salts.
  • Inorganic salts on soot particles can make them hydrophilic.
  • Fly ash, cenospheres, and metal particles can also be present in smoke.
  • Smoke particulates are categorized into three modes based on particle size: nuclei mode, accumulation mode, and coarse mode.
  • Nuclei mode particles have a size range of 2.5 to 20nm and form through carbon condensation.
  • Accumulation mode particles range from 75 and 250 nm and consist of condensed organic and inorganic compounds.
  • Coarse mode particles are composed of larger ash, tar, and metal particles.
  • The size and composition of smoke particulates can impact their behavior, transport, and health effects.
  • Magnetic particles and radioactive particles can also be present in smoke under certain conditions.

Health and Environmental Impact of Smoke

  • Smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in indoor fire victims.
  • Smoke inhalation causes thermal damage, poisoning, and pulmonary irritation.
  • Carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and other combustion products contribute to smoke-related deaths.
  • Smoke is an aerosol that scatters visible light, affecting visibility and air quality.
  • Smoke contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous substances that can harm human health.
  • Smoke can contribute to the formation of smog and air pollution.
  • Smoke can cause physical damage and stains to surfaces.
  • Smoke damage can often exceed the damage caused by the actual heat of the fire.
  • Smoke can leave a smoky odor that is difficult to eliminate.
  • Smoke can cause corrosion and high-temperature corrosion on metals.
  • Smoke from wildfires and forest fires can reintroduce radioactive particles and bioaccumulated radioisotopes into the atmosphere.

Dangers and Corrosivity of Smoke

  • Smoke from oxygen-deprived fires can be flammable and ignite when in contact with atmospheric oxygen.
  • Smoke inhalation can cause serious injury and death.
  • Carbon monoxide in smoke can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Smoke can contain toxic and irritating compounds such as hydrogen cyanide and phosgene.
  • Sulfur oxides, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen fluoride in smoke can form corrosive acids.
  • Smoke can contain aggressive chemicals such as hydrochloric acid and hydrobromic acid.
  • Delicate structures, especially microelectronics, are strongly affected by smoke corrosion.
  • Corrosion of circuit board traces and penetration of aggressive chemicals can cause equipment failure.
  • Smoke components can cause crosstalks, deteriorations, and short circuits in circuits.
  • Smoke can affect electrical contacts and optoelectronics performance.

Health Effects of Smoke and Medicinal Smoking

  • Wood smoke is a major source of air pollution, including particulate pollution, PAHs, and VOCs.
  • Domestic combustion, especially for industrial uses, is the largest source of PM2.5 in the UK.
  • Wood smoke may be responsible for 60% of fine particle air pollution in some towns in New South Wales.
  • Wood-burning is responsible for a significant portion of PAH urban air pollution and lung cancer risk.
  • Wood smoke can cause lung damage, artery damage, DNA damage, and various diseases.
  • Air pollution, particulate matter, and wood smoke may also cause brain damage and increase the risk of developmental and mental disorders.
  • Humans have used smoke from medicinal plants throughout history to cure illness.
  • A sculpture from Persepolis shows Darius the Great using smoke from Peganum harmala and/or sandalwood Santalum album for protection against evil and disease.
  • More than 300 plant species across 5 continents are used in smoke form for various diseases.
  • Smoking is an important method of drug administration due to its simplicity, affordability, and effectiveness in extracting active agents.
  • Generating smoke reduces particle size, increasing the absorption of active chemical principles.

Smoke Mentions

Smoke Data Sources

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