SA bans fluorinated firefighting foams

Posted on : Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The South Australian Government has introduced a ban on the use of fluorinated firefighting foams due to concerns about the chemicals' environmental impacts.


The ban covers all types of fluorinated firefighting foams, both C8 types and more modern ≤C6 types.


No other Australian state or territory or major international jurisdiction has banned ≤C6 types of firefighting foam, although in 2016 Queensland introduced a ban on C8 types and restrictions on ≤C6 foam.


C8 foam may contain perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) or perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), while ≤C6 types contain reduced amounts of PFOA. PFOS is considered a persistent organic pollutant, and PFOA is expected to be listed as such in Australia in 2019.


The wide-reaching ban may have significant consequences for major hazard facilities, which frequently rely on fluorinated foam suppression systems because of their increased effectiveness over non-fluorinated alternatives.


The ban, which covers all foams containing per- and poly-fluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS), is part of an amendment to the Environment Protection (Water Quality) Policy 2015 under the Environment Protection Act 1993, made following public consultation during 2017.


Two-year compliance window


Under the changes, non-handheld firefighting foam applications in South Australia are required to be compliant within two years, and handheld extinguishers must be compliant within two years or upon the next refill, whichever is earlier.


Fluorine levels in firefighting foams will now require certification by suppliers. The ban also includes a provision to address PFAS contamination of existing equipment.


Still a role for next-gen fluorinated foams


Fire Protection Association Australia (FPA Australia) released an information bulletin in 2014 on the selection and use of firefighting foams. In it, the Association recommends a ban on C8 type fluorinated foams, but recommends modern ≤C6 foams be retained for limited use cases due to their reduced environmental impact and high level of effectiveness.


"FPA Australia maintains that any foam must be selected on the basis of suitability for responding to fire risk, life safety, property protection and the environment," said Matthew Wright, FPA Australia's General Manager Technical Services/Deputy CEO.


"C8 foams containing PFOS should rightly be banned, however there is still a role for next-generation ≤C6 foams that offer both reduced environmental impact and effective firefighting capability."


"Although the extinguishing capability of fluorine-free foams is improving, they have still not been proven effective in significant fire incidents. Taking ≤C6 foams off the table will increase the risk to life safety and the environment due to out of control fires in high risk applications."


"We're nevertheless encouraged by the continuing development of fluorine-free foams, which have made great strides in recent years."


Firefighting foam seminar


Fire Protection Association Australia (FPA Australia) is running a Future of Firefighting Foams seminar on 21 February in Queensland. The seminar will address fluorinated and fluorine-free firefighting foams, when and where they can be used, state legislative restrictions and environmental impacts. Learn more here.