Emollient cream fire risks revealed
RESEARCH UNDERTAKEN by Anglia Ruskin University and presented at the UK Association of Fire Investigators found that such creams can ‘pose a significant fire risk’ once having dried.
West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (WYFRS) reported on the research project and its findings, with forensic scientists at the university finding that the creams pose the ‘significant’ risk of fire once they have ‘dried on fabric such as clothing and bedding’. A variety of creams were tested, including some commonly used for treating skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis, while the findings were published in the Fire Safety Journal and presented at the association’s Leeds conference.
Initially the study focused on creams, lotions and ointments with a paraffin base, but the research indicated that the presence of paraffin free emollient ‘increases the flammability of fabrics’, with the university’s Dr Sarah Hall and Joanne Morrissey measuring the time it takes for fabrics, including cotton ‘of different thread counts’ and blends of polyester and cotton, to ignite ‘once contaminated with an emollient’ and once in ‘close proximity’ to a naked flame.
They found that non contaminated fabrics took, on average, 65 seconds to ignite, while those with emollient residue from both paraffin and paraffin free creams caught fire ‘in less than 20 seconds’. WYFRS gave a series of safety messages following this , including that creams, sprays, liquids or gels are safe to use and ‘vital’ for skin conditions, but the danger ‘exists’ once residue gets onto fabrics, bedding, clothing and bandages.
It also recommended that those prescribing, dispensing and applying such products ‘speak to the patients and tell them about the fire risks’, while prescribers who switched customers to lower or paraffin free creams ‘should be aware that this will not reduce the risk’. Those using the products are advised not to go near naked flames, smoking materials, cookers and heaters, and to keep away from other smokers ‘if there is any risk of fabric contamination’.
Finally, it noted that washing fabrics at the ‘highest temperature recommended’ on the fabric care labels will ‘reduce the emollient residue but may not totally remove it’, so it is best to ‘remain cautious and stay away from fire’. Dr Hall, senior lecturer in forensic science, stated: ‘We were driven to carry out this work following a couple of tragic cases reported to us by Essex Fire and Rescue Service that were linked to fires and the use of emollients.
‘Since then we have worked jointly with Essex Fire and Rescue, London Fire Brigade and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service. Our initial research focused on the range of paraffin-based creams, as this seemed the most obvious reason for flammability. However, we are now seeing that fabric that has been in contaminated with any of these creams reacts in a similar way.
‘We are now carrying out further research to try and identify any common ingredients as well as the best ways of removing the residue from clothing and bedding, for example the ideal washing temperature.’
Chris Bell, WYFRS’ watch manager and emollient lead for the National Fire Chiefs Council, added: ‘We welcome the report from Anglia Ruskin University and we thank the researchers for their commitment to exploring this issue further. We want to reassure people that emollients are safe to use. They are an effective treatment for skin conditions so people should continue to use them.
‘However, people should be aware that when using emollients they can come into contact with fabrics, clothing, bedding or bandages which then dries leaving a flammable residue. The fabric can then be easily ignited with smoking materials such as matches and lighters, naked flames or other heat sources.
‘We are asking people who prescribe, dispense or apply these products to be aware that switching to a lower or paraffin-free emollient will not reduce the fire risk. Washing fabrics will reduce the risk but may not totally remove it.’