Article and photos by Gregory Havel
Plastics are part of a class of chemicals called “polymers”–giant molecules made up of thousands of smaller molecules of chemicals called “monomers,” which are unstable and have the ability to react with themselves to form the much larger polymer molecules.
- Acrylonitrile (UN 1093) + Butadiene (UN 1010) + Styrene (UN 2055): Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)
- Methyl methacrylate (UN 1247): acrylics
- Acrylonitrile (UN 1093)(vinyl cyanide): polyacrylonitrile (PAN)
- Bisphenol-a and Phosgene (UN 1076): polycarbonate
- Ethylene oxide (UN 1040): polyethylene (PE)
- Propylene oxide (UN 1280)(propene): polypropylene (PP)
- Styrene monomer (UN 2055): polystyrene (PS)
- (reaction of diisocyanates with polyalcohols and a catalyst): polyurethane (PU)
- Vinyl chloride (UN1086): polyvinylchloride (PVC)
- Perfluoroethylene: Polytetrafluroethylene (PTFE; (DuPont Teflon®))
These polymers and plastics have many common uses in residential and commercial construction materials:
- They can be manufactured to look like other materials, including wood and metal.
- They are often less expensive than the materials they imitate.
- They are available at any hardware or home-improvement store.
- They are all hydrocarbon-based, including cellulose, and all will burn, although some will self-extinguish when the ignition source is removed (thermosets).
- Synthetic polymers burn hotter and faster than cellulose-based materials and produce more types of toxic products of combustion.
- Some types of synthetic polymers can melt, drip and run, and burn like flammable liquids, in addition to burning in place like a combustible solid.
Gregory Havel is a member of the Town of Burlington (WI) Fire Department; retired as deputy chief and training officer; and is a 30-year veteran of the fire service. He is a Wisconsin-certified fire instructor II and fire officer II, an adjunct instructor in fire service programs at Gateway Technical College, and safety director for Scherrer Construction Co., Inc. Havel has a bachelor’s degree from St. Norbert College; has more than 30 years of experience in facilities management and building construction; and has presented classes at FDIC.
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Subjects: Building construction for firefighters