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Chemosphere. 2011 Jan;82(2):237-43. doi: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2010.09.065. Epub 2010 Oct 13.

Chemical composition of burnt smell caused by accidental fires: environmental contaminants.

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Technical University of Braunschweig, Institute of Ecological and Sustainable Chemistry, Hagenring 30, 38106 Braunschweig, Germany.


The chemical composition of the odors typical of fires has recently been deciphered. Basically the constituents are mixtures of acetophenone, benzyl alcohol, hydroxylated derivatives of benzaldehyde, methoxylated and/or alkylated phenols and naphthalene. This finding makes it possible to develop objective, practical analytic measurement methods for the burnt smell as a contribution to improving fire damage assessment and remediation monitoring. With the aid of an artificially produced burnt smell and a panel of testers the odor detection threshold of a test mixture was determined olfactometrically to 2 μg m⁻³. Using a defined burnt-smell atmosphere in a test chamber, analytical methods with active sampling, the adsorbents XAD 7 and TENAX TA, and GC/MS measurement were then optimized and tested with a view to being able to carry out sensitive quantitative measurement of burnt smells. A further practical method with particular application to the qualitative characterization of this odor is based on the use of a new SPME (solid-phase microextraction) field sampler with DVB/CAR/PDMS (divinylbenzene/Carboxen™/polydimethylsiloxane) fibers.

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