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The correlation between carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide in fire effluents of flame retarded polymers

Molyneux S., Stec, A.A. and Hull, T.R., 2014. The correlation between carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide in fire effluents of flame retarded polymers. Fire Safety Science 11: 389-403. 10.3801/IAFSS.FSS.11-389


This study considers the demonstrated correlation between carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide in the special case of fire retarded materials. It shows that the combination of aluminium phosphinate and melamine polyphosphate causes a much smaller increase in the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) yields than the combination of brominated polystyrene and antimony oxide, although both fire retardants inhibit combustion reactions in the gas phase. The formation and destruction mechanisms of CO and HCN are considered. It is shown that both toxicants form early in the flame, and that the OH radical is critical for the destruction of both CO and HCN. Crucially, in the context of the flame inhibition mechanism, this suggests that the phosphorus system reduces the H and O radical concentrations without a corresponding decrease in the OH radical concentration, thus it is an effective gas phase flame retardant which only causes a small increase in the toxic product yields. Conversely, the bromine system reduces the H, O and OH concentrations, and thus increases the fire toxicity, by inhibiting decomposition of CO and HCN. Moreover, while the phosphorus flame retardant is effective as an ignition suppressant at low temperatures, this effect “switches off” at higher flame temperatures, minimising the potential increase in fire toxicity, once the fire develops.


hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, toxic, retardant, flame, phosphinated, brominated, Polyamide

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