Fire Bulletin - Discharge of Pollutants on customer premises
BLACKBURN, England -
Last month, the Environment Agency's Waste Industry Regulatory Services and Chemical Compliance Team (EA) advised the Fire Industry Association (FIA) that they are applying a restriction on persistent organic pollutants entering sewerage systems and the water environment. This group of chemicals has adverse long-term effects on the environment and human health and are found in some fire extinguishers.
The chemicals, often known as POPs, PFAS, C6 and/or PFHxA, are sometimes given the moniker forever-chemicals because they do not degrade. The Environment Agency's message directly affects water-based fire extinguishers, which have a "B-class" fire rating and contain the chemicals mentioned above. Almost entirely, these are Foam and Wet Chemical extinguishers.
The contents of these extinguishers need to go to high-temperature incineration for disposal instead of the extinguisher technician discharging it to the sewer via sinks/toilets. There is no alternative treatment or regime to prevent PFAS from entering sewerage systems.
For most foam installations, alternative extinguisher types which do not contain these chemicals are available and will be suggested. Wet Chemical is the only option for cooking oil/fat.
Chubb's recommended approach is a two-phased one. Firstly, to rein in the installation of new extinguishers which contain the chemicals. Secondly, a prudent phased approach to remove already-installed extinguishers from service.
In consideration of pulling back on the volume of new foam extinguishers which contain the chemicals being provided to deliver general coverage to employers' premises. The action is straightforward. Simply equip new or refurbished buildings with pollutant-free extinguishers e.g., the Chubb Hydrospray® extinguisher.
Where an employer has provided foam extinguishers to deal with flammable liquid spills, they should note that either powder or CO2 perform better on spills than foam. In fact, a 2kg CO2 extinguisher will deal with a spill over 3 litres, so it is more than adequate for most workplaces. It is recognised that specific industrial applications still require foam. In consideration of the latter, a sensible balance can be struck between financial and environmental costs. The chemicals are not banned; they just cannot be discharged into the sewer. Whilst the chemicals are inside an extinguisher; they do not harm either purse or the environment.
Therefore, the recommended course of action is to replace the extinguisher with a pollutant-free option when the foam extinguisher requires any remedial attention beyond its basic annual service. There are three occasions when this situation arises, when extinguishers are:
1. Damaged or unserviceable
2. Require to be discharged as part of the five-yearly BS5306-3 Extended Service (which cannot now be completed)
3. Have been used and require to be refilled. Unless the extinguisher is empty.
All three moments present an ideal time to change to a pollutant-free extinguisher which can be discharged and refilled in the future. To help, Chubb will have two new pollutant-free extinguishers in its range by the end of 2022.
The benefits of this environmental switch are reducing Persistent Organic Pollutants in our land and oceans, preventing forever-chemicals entering the food chain and a healthy legacy for future generations. For employers with ISO14001 aspirations, this is a big tick in the box, especially while retaining fire-fighting capability.
In summary, to protect the environment from further harm, pollutants from extinguishers must be incinerated instead of being discharged into sewers. Chubb recommends an efficient, phased movement to pollutant-free extinguishers.