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Smoke Chemistry

Chemical Composition of Smoke

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Sometimes you can see smoke, but smoke also can be invisible.

Sometimes you can see smoke, but smoke also can be invisible. Often you can smell smoke even when you can't see it.

Anne Helmenstine
Smoke consists of gases and airborne particles produces as a result of combustion or burning. The specific chemicals depend on the fuel used to produce the fire. Here is a look as some of the principal chemicals produced from wood smoke. Keep in mind, there are thousands of chemicals in smoke so the chemical composition of smoke is extremely complex.

Chemicals in Smoke

In addition to the chemicals listed in the table, wood smoke also contains a large amount of unreacted air, carbon dioxide and water. It contains a variable amount of mold spores. VOCs are volatile organic compounds. Aldehydes found in wood smoke include formaldehyde, acrolein, propionaldehyde, butryaldehyde, acetaldehyde and furfural. Alkyl benzenes found in wood smoke include toluene. Oxygenated monoaromatics include guaiacol, phenol, syringol and catechol. Numerous PAHs or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are found in smoke. Many trace elements are released.

Reference: 1993 EPA Report, A Summary of the Emissions Characterization and Noncancer Respiratory Effects of Wood Smoke, EPA-453/R-93-036

What Is a Toxic Chemical?

Chemical Composition of Wood Smoke

Chemicalg/kg Wood
carbon monoxide80-370
methane14-25
VOCs* (C2-C7)7-27
aldehydes0.6-5.4
substituted furans0.15-1.7
benzene0.6-4.0
alkyl benzenes1-6
acetic acid1.8-2.4
formic acid0.06-0.08
nitrogen oxides0.2-0.9
sulfur dioxide0.16-0.24
methyl chloride0.01-0.04
napthalene0.24-1.6
substituted napthalenes0.3-2.1
oxygenated monoaromatics1-7
total particle mass7-30
particulate organic carbon2-20
oxygenated PAHs0.15-1
Individual PAHs10-5-10-2
chlorinated dioxins1x10-5-4x10-5
normal alkanes (C24-C30)1x10-3-6x10-3
sodium3x10-3-2.8x10-2
magnesium2x10-4-3x10-3
aluminum1x10-4-2.4x10-2
silicon3x10-4-3.1x10-2
sulfur1x10-3-2.9x10-2
chlorine7x10-4-2.1x10-2
potassium3x10-3-8.6x10-2
calcium9x10-4-1.8x10-2
titanium4x10-5-3x10-3
vanadium2x10-5-4x10-3
chromium2x10-5-3x10-3
manganese7x10-5-4x10-3
iron3x10-4-5x10-3
nickel1x10-6-1x10-3
copper2x10-4-9x10-4
zinc7x10-4-8x10-3
bromine7x10-5-9x10-4
lead1x10-4-3x10-3

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