Health and environmental concerns linked with some firefighting foams have put operators of hazardous sites on notice and highlighted the importance of getting reputable advice.

There is no room for error when battling fires on high-hazard sites such as airports and petrochemical plants – especially at a time when restrictions are being imposed on controversial firefighting foams.

Highly publicised issues at Sydney Airport, Brisbane Airport, the Army Aviation Centre at Oakey in Queensland and the RAAF Base at Edinburgh in South Australia, and elsewhere, have put the spotlight on the use of foams containing the compounds perfluorooctane sulphate (PFOs) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOAs). The fallout has led to the introduction of new environmental protection policies in some jurisdictions.

Fire-suppression foams containing PFOs and PFOAs have been used internationally for decades to fight fires, but such foams are now subject to strict management and containment rules because of the risk of toxins polluting soil and entering waterways.

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 both C8 types of foam and more modern ≤C6 types. C8 foam may contain PFOs or PFOAs, while ≤C6 types may contain lower amounts or trace elements of PFOAs.

In 2016, Queensland introduced a ban on C8 foams and restrictions on ≤C6 foams. There is pressure on other states to follow suit.

Choose foams carefully

Bans on foams may have significant consequences for high-hazard facilities because they have traditionally relied on what are known as aqueous film-forming foams (AFFFs) which contain PFOs or PFOAs. They have long been considered to be more effective than fluorine-free alternatives.

The reality is that different types of fires require different suppression methods, so foams should pass performance and characteristic testing to ensure they are compatible with system designs for fixed and portable firefighting equipment. It is important to note, too, that protein firefighting foam concentrates can put out or contain a wide variety of fires, including airport and petrochemical blazes.

Partner with experts

All firefighting foams have associated risks which must be managed appropriately. Indeed, the complexity around the choice of foams and their potential impact on the environment means it is more crucial than ever to partner with a reputable fire-suppression expert.

Given the high stakes associated with possible accidents, downtime and maintenance costs at airports and industrial plants, in particular, it is wise to develop specific protection measures for such environments.

There is no substitute for experience when it comes to preventing or suppressing major fires. The best partners offer support throughout the entire process from design and procurement through to commissioning and after-sales service. At all times the emphasis should be on quality advice and the use of quality products that have been proven and tested.

With people’s lives and high-value assets on the line, site owners cannot afford to be complacent. They ignore any new rules and regulations at their peril.

Delta Fire specialises in the fire protection of high-risk, high-hazard environments such as airports and petrochemical sites. Visit for more details.

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