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When planes crash, cabin fires and toxic fumes often claim more lives than the impact itself. Engineers at the University of Amherst and the federal Aviation Administration may have found a way to reduce that risk and give passengers the time they need to escape from an accident.

A plastic called PHA emits only water vapor when it burns, and it breaks down into a flame-resistant compound. A number of companies have already expressed interest in developing components made of pha once it becomes a commercial product.

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