Definitions

smoke

smoke

[smohk]
smoke, visible gaseous product of incomplete combustion. Smoke varies with its source, but it usually comprises hot gas and suspended particles of carbon and tarry substances, or soot. To reduce the amount of smoke entering the atmosphere, air pollution laws generally require that power plants, factories, and other large combustion facilities burn anthracite (hard) coal, natural gas, or low-sulfur fuel oil rather than bituminous (soft) coal or high-sulfur fuel oil, and that smokestacks be equipped with scrubbers or other devices. Proper firing techniques and equipment can eliminate or greatly reduce the smoke produced by any fuel. Wood gives little smoke if burned when dry and if the fire is given a good supply of air. Where it is necessary to use soft coal because of its lower cost or because other fuel is not available, the grate and flue must be built to insure maximum combustion, the coal supply must be carefully regulated, and adequate air must be supplied. There are various ways of reducing the amount of smoke escaping into the air. Some methods utilize electricity or sound waves for precipitation of the suspended particles, others employ chemicals; the method using an electric current at high potential is perhaps best known. Smoke precipitates may yield valuable byproducts; for example, fly ash can be used as a construction material. Among the evils of smoke are interference with sunlight, causing the most healthful rays of the sun to be filtered out and necessitating the use of artificial light; disfigurement of buildings, leaving deposits that are costly to remove and causing corrosion of stone and metalwork; destruction of plant life by shutting out sunlight and by clogging the stomata of leaves with oily deposits; and injury to the respiratory systems of humans and livestock. Tobacco smoke, in particular, is known to be related to cancer of the lungs and other organs (see smoking). In addition to such damages, smoke also represents a waste of energy, as imperfect combustion dissipates potential heat into the atmosphere. Smoke particles and other air pollutants are often trapped in the atmosphere by a combination of environmental circumstances (see temperature inversion), forming smog. Paris early passed stringent laws in an effort to preserve architectural and sculptural monuments, and most U.S. cities had smoke-nuisance laws before air pollution regulations were put into effect. Smoke-nuisance laws are difficult to enforce and often are not applicable to existing residential heating units, although these are often important contributors to pollution. In order to comply with federal air pollution standards many cities have now adopted building codes that require minimally polluting heating units in new buildings and that forbid the use of incinerators.

Smoke is the collection of airborne solid and liquid particulates and gases emitted when a material undergoes combustion or pyrolysis, together with the quantity of air that is entrained or otherwise mixed into the mass. It is commonly an unwanted by-product of fires (including stoves, candles, oil lamps, and fireplaces), but may also be used for pest control (cf. fumigation), communication (smoke signals), defense (smoke-screen) or smoking (tobacco, marijuana, etc.). Smoke is used in rituals, when incense, sage, or resin are burned to produce a smell for spiritual purposes. Smoke is sometimes used as a flavouring agent and preservative for various foodstuffs. Smoke is also sometimes a component of internal combustion engine exhaust gas, particularly diesel exhaust. Smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in victims of indoor fires. The smoke kills by a combination of thermal damage, poisoning and pulmonary irritation caused by carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and other combustion products.

Smoke particles are an aerosol (or mist) of solid particles and liquid droplets that are close to the ideal range of sizes for Mie scattering of visible light. This effect has been likened to three-dimensional textured privacy glass — a smoke cloud does not obstruct an image, but thoroughly scrambles it.

Chemical composition

The composition of smoke depends on the nature of the burning fuel and the conditions of combustion.

Fires with high availability of oxygen burn at high temperature and with small amount of smoke produced; the particles are mostly composed of ash, or with large temperature differences, of condensed aerosol of water. High temperature also leads to production of nitrogen oxides. Sulfur content yields sulfur dioxide. Carbon and hydrogen are almost completely oxidized to carbon dioxide and water. Fires burning with lack of oxygen produce a significantly wider palette of compounds, many of them toxic. Partial oxidation of carbon produces carbon monoxide, nitrogen-containing materials can yield hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, and nitrogen oxides. Content of halogens such as chlorine (eg. in polyvinyl chloride) or other halogens may lead to production of eg. hydrogen chloride, phosgene, dioxin, and chloromethane, bromomethane and other halocarbons.

Pyrolysis of burning material also results in production of a large amount of hydrocarbons, both aliphatic (methane, ethane, ethylene, acetylene) and aromatic (benzene and its derivates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; eg. [[benzopyrene|benzo[a]pyrene]], studied as a carcinogen, or retene), terpenes. Heterocyclic compounds may be also present. Heavier hydrocarbons may condense as tar.

Presence of sulfur can lead to formation of eg. hydrogen sulfide, carbonyl sulfide, sulfur dioxide, carbon disulfide, and thiols; especially thiols tend to get adsorbed on surfaces and produce a lingering odor even long after the fire. Partial oxidation of the released hydrocarbons yields in a wide palette of other compounds: aldehydes (eg. formaldehyde, acrolein, and furfural), ketones, alcohols (often aromatic, eg. phenol, guaiacol, syringol, catechol, and cresols), carboxylic acids (formic acid, acetic acid, etc.).

The visible particles in such smokes are most commonly composed of carbon (soot). Other particulates may be composed of drops of condensed tar, or solid particles of ash. The presence of metals in the fuel yields particles of metal oxides. Particles of inorganic salts may also be formed, eg. ammonium sulfate, ammonium nitrate. Many organic compounds, typically the aromatic hydrocarbons, may be also adsorbed on the surface of the solid particles.

Smoke emissions may contain characteristic trace elements. Vanadium is present in emissions from oil fired power plants and refineries; oil plants also emit some nickel. Coal combustion produces emissions containing aluminium, arsenic, chromium, cobalt, copper, mercury, selenium, and uranium.

Some components of smoke are characteristic of the combustion source. Guaiacol and its derivatives are products of pyrolysis of lignin and are characteristic of wood smoke; other markers are syringol and derivates, and other methoxy phenols. Retene, a product of pyrolysis of conifer trees, is an indicator of forest fires. Levoglucosan is a pyrolysis product of cellulose. Hardwood vs softwood smokes differ in the ratio of guaiacols/syringols. Markers for vehicle exhaust include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, hopanes, steranes, and specific nitroarenes (eg. 1-nitropyrene). The ratio of hopanes and steranes to elemental carbon can be used to distinguish between emissions of gasoline and diesel engines.

Dangers of smoke

Smoke from oxygen-deprived fires contains a significant concentration of compounds that are flammable. A cloud of smoke, in contact with atmospheric oxygen, therefore has the potential of being ignited - either by another open flame in the area, or by its own temperature. This leads to effects like backdraft and flashover.

Many compounds of smoke from fires are highly toxic and/or irritating. The most dangerous is the carbon monoxide, leading to carbon monoxide poisoning, sometimes with supporting effects of hydrogen cyanide and phosgene. Smoke inhalation can therefore quickly lead to incapacitation and loss of consciousness.

Smoke can obscure visibility, impeding occupant exiting from fire areas. In fact, the poor visibility due to the smoke that was in the Worcester Cold Storage Warehouse fire in Worcester, Massachusetts was the exact reason why the trapped rescue firefighters couldn't evacuate the building in time. Due to the striking similarity that each floor shared, the dense smoke caused the firefighters to become disoriented.

Visible and invisible particles of combustion

Depending on particle size, smoke can be visible or invisible to the naked eye. This is best illustrated when toasting bread in a toaster. As the bread heats up, the products of combustion increase in size. The particles produced initially are invisible but become visible if the toast is burnt.

Smoke from a typical house fire contains hundreds of different chemicals and fumes. As a result, the damage caused by the smoke can often exceed that caused by the actual heat of the fire. In addition to the physical damage caused by the smoke of a fire - which manifests itself in the form of stains - is the often even harder to eliminate problem of a smokey odor. Just as there are contractors that specialize in rebuilding/repairing homes that have been damaged by fire and smoke, Fabric Restoration companies specialize in restoring fabrics that have been damaged in a fire.

Medicinal Smoke

Throughout recorded history, humans have used the smoke of medicinal plants to cure illness. A sculpture from Persepolis shows Darius the Great (522–486 b.c.), the king of Persia, with two censers in front of him for burning Peganum harmala and/or sandalwood Santalum album, which was believed to protect the king from evil and disease. More than 300 plant species in 5 continents are used in smoke form for different diseases. As a method of drug administration, smoking is important as it is a simple, inexpensive, but very effective method of extracting particles containing active agents. More importantly, generating smoke reduces the particle size to a microscopic scale thereby increasing the absorption of its active chemical principles. However, the hazards of inhaling a particulate are unacceptable to some people. Although the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes has been recorded for centuries, it has only recently become a subject of intense public scrutiny. So far, only a few examples of medicinal smoke have been studied in detail (e.g. cannabis). Smoke-based medicinal substances represent multiple opportunities for studies on the chemical constituents, applications, and introduction and preparation of new drugs and dosage forms.

References

See also

External links

Search another word or see Smokeon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature