There are an estimated 25,000 chimney fires each year that cause life threatening injuries and millions of dollars in property damage. Most chimney fires start inside the flue where there is either creosote buildup or a flue blockage of some kind. As heat from the fire reaches these flammable materials, the creosote or blockage ignites, starting a chimney fire. Flames in the lower part of the chimney can migrate to a crack, or other defects in the masonry or metal chimney walls.
In addition to fires, failure to maintain a chimney may have health effects:
- Creosote exposure: This is an oily black substance that builds up in the chimney and is caused by incomplete wood combustion. It can cause skin and eye irritation. If ingested, it can damage and irritate the kidneys, lungs and liver. Long-term exposure to creosote has been linked to mental problems and cancer.
- Smoke inhalation: Smoke and soot travel up a chimney when it is in operation. Smoke can enter the home and effect the air, causing irritation of the respiratory tract, heightened asthma symptoms, and bronchitis. In extreme cases, long-term wood smoke and soot inhalation also can lead to lung cancer.
- Carbon monoxide inhalation: This is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas and is a problem when it is not exhausted out the chimney. Inhalation prevents the blood from carrying sufficient oxygen. The signs and symptoms of acute exposure to carbon monoxide may include headache, flushing, nausea, vertigo, weakness, irritability, unconsciousness, and even death.
- Histoplasmosis: It is an infection caused by inhaling histoplasma caspsulatum fungal spores. Birds or bats stuck in the chimney can generate the fungus. Most people who have histoplamosis show no symptoms, but when they do occur, they may include fever, chills, headache, muscle ache, dry cough, chest pain, and tiredness.
It is important that a chimney be maintained. It is best to find a reliable, professional chimney sweep This is because a professional will be able to spot problems with your chimney that need fixing, such as bad flashing, missing caps, or damaged flues. A chimney sweep typically takes about an hour, and you can expect the technician to take a long brush and remove creosote, leaves, and other debris from the inside of the chimney. If the company which does cleaning also repairs chimneys, they may recommend certain repairs, such as new flashing and dampers. They may also recommend a new cap to prevent rodents or birds from entering the chimney.
Keep Santa safe and happy. Maintain your chimney!
OccuSafe Industrial Hygiene & Safety, Inc. provides skills and expertise to recognize, evaluate and control hazards and injuries in the areas of industrial hygiene, occupational safety and health. OccuSafe services companies of all sizes in a range of industries.
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