Canada has exempted the country’s airports from a requirement to use fluorinated firefighting foams in their operations.
In an order issued last month, Nicholas Robinson – Canada’s director general of civil aviation – said that the country will now allow airports to elect to transition to a fluorine-free foam provided that it is “more environmentally friendly” and currently used in other countries.
Prior to the change, Canadian operators have been required to meet a country-specific aircraft firefighting standard that mandates the use of fluorinated foam. But the new policy allows them instead to meet performance specifications set out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which do not specifically require those products.
The exemption is subject to certain conditions, including requirements that operators maintain their response readiness and that they consult foam manufacturers on the feasibility of transitioning to fluorine-free foams before doing so. The alternative foams must also have a low environmental impact and be free of any fluorinated compounds, including but not limited to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs).
The exemption will remain in effect until 28 June 2024, unless cancelled by the transportation ministry in the interim. It applies to all Canadian air operators, but will cease to apply to any that breaches a condition of the policy.
North American context
Canada’s exemption comes amid increasing concern about the use of fluorinated foams by the country’s southern neighbour, following reports of widespread PFAS contamination linked to the use of these products.
As PFAS contamination remains at the top of voters and legislators minds across the US, several states have approved legislation this year to address the substances’ use in firefighting applications.
At the federal level, the US Congress passed legislation last autumn directing the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to no longer require that non-military airports use fluorinated chemicals to meet federal performance standards. The FAA must allow alternatives by October 2021.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has more recently expressed concern about the availability of fluorine-free alternatives, specifically for military use. But the NGO Safer Chemicals Healthy Families (SCHF) has pointed out that alternatives have successfully been used in major European airports like Heathrow and Copenhagen.
Questions remain, however, about the transition to fluorine-free foams. Research carried out last year for the Interstate Chemical Clearinghouse – an association of state and local governments – found that performance testing of fluorine-free alternatives is limited, and in most cases their ecotoxicity and human health impacts have yet to be assessed.
*Original article online at https://chemicalwatch.com/80258/canada-begins-allowing-airports-to-use-fluorine-free-firefighting-foams