Public Health information about the impact of fires on health

Published Friday, 19th May 2017
health, public health england,
Public Health England

The fire at the Universal Recycling company site at Kilnhurst is no longer burning. This is some general public health information about the impact of fires on health.

Will I suffer any long-term effects from breathing in the smoke?

Due to the nature of the fire we would expect normal products of combustion to have been present in the smoke (which have the potential to cause short-lived respiratory irritation); we do not expect that exposure to the smoke will cause long-term health effects. 

If you were exposed to smoke you may have experienced immediate symptoms such as coughing, tight chest or a sore throat. These symptoms usually disappear very soon after the exposure has stopped and do not lead to any long-term health problems. 

When a fire is burning, anyone can be affected by smoke, although, in general, exposure to smoke is more likely to affect people who already have breathing problems or lung or heart conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, chronic pulmonary disease or heart disease. The very young and very old, smokers and people with flu or flu-like illnesses may also be at greater risk from exposure to smoke from fires. 

People who are generally fit and well are unlikely to experience long-term health problems from temporary exposure to smoke from a fire. 

I think that my health has been affected; what should I do?

People who are affected will mostly have immediate symptoms such as coughing or a tight chest. These symptoms usually disappear very soon after the exposure has stopped and do not lead to any long-term health problems. 

If you have persisting symptoms and concerns, contact your GP or for advice, as you would under any other circumstances. If a medical consultant is already treating an existing health condition, discuss your concerns and symptoms with them.

Or contact the NHS: NHS 111image

There is an unpleasant smell from the site of the fire, is this harmful to health?

The human nose is very sensitive to odours, and many substances that are perceived as odorous or smelly are usually present at levels below which there is a direct harmful effect. Odours can however cause annoyance and possibly lead to stress and anxiety. Some people may experience symptoms such as nausea, headaches or dizziness, as a reaction to odour even when the substances that cause those smells are themselves not harmful to health.

The fire is out but my house still smells of smoke, what shall I do to get rid of the smell?

Open windows and doors to ventilate your property. 

The fire is out but my house contains some soot residue, is this harmful to me or my animals?

PHE would not expect there to be a significant risk from short-term contact with soot. Because of its size it is unlikely that it could be inhaled if disturbed and so would be unlikely to cause any respiratory symptoms.

Will I still be able to eat fruit and vegetables from my garden or allotment?

PHE would consider the risk to health to be low in this situation. The advice from environmental health is if any fruits and vegetables in the garden have been covered by a sooty deposit which remains when ready to harvest, it would be advisable to discard them as a precautionary measure. 

Environment Agency incident hotline

The Universal Recycling Company site at Wharf Road, Kilnhurst, is regulated by the Environment Agency.

Pollution reports should be forwarded through to the Environment Agency on their incident hotline:

Environment Agency hotline 0800 80 70 600image