Fluoride Action Network

Firefighters call for fluorine-free foam at international POPs meeting

Source: Chemical Watch | May 2nd, 2019 | By Ginger Hervey
Location: International
Industry type: Perfluorinated chemicals

Group rejects exemption for foam in global PFOA ban

A group of firefighters and fire safety experts on Wednesday called on international negotiators to ban fluorinated chemicals in firefighting foam.

Delegates from more than 180 countries are in Geneva this week for the annual meeting of the UN’s Stockholm Convention on persistent organic pollutants (POPs). On the agenda are proposals to tighten controls on PFOA and PFOS, two fluorinated industrial chemicals used in a variety of manufacturing processes for their resistance to water and oil.

The EU has identified both substances as persistent, bioaccumulative and reprotoxic.

Speaking at a press conference hosted by the civil society network Ipen on the sidelines of the convention, firefighters from international and Australian trade unions, as well as experts from aviation and oil and gas companies that have stopped using fluorinated foam, urged delegates to ban PFOA and to “close loopholes” in the convention for the ban on PFOS.

“As a firefighter I can tell you our anxiety levels are high, because we know we’ve had to deal with exposure to this toxic chemical for over 50 years,” Mick Tisbury, president of the United Firefighters Union of Australia and commander of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade, said of PFOA. “Right now we feel like we’ve got a ticking time bomb in our bodies.”

New data on exposure to fluorinated chemicals for Australian firefighters was included in an Ipen report published last week advocating for fluorine-free firefighting foam. It found “significant elevations” of fluorinated chemicals in the blood of Australian firefighters compared to the general population of the country, according to the NGO.

All major airports in Australia have phased out the use of fluorinated firefighting foam, the report said. Tisbury said that his fire brigade has found the fluorine-free foam performs just as well.

Stockholm talks

In October, the review committee for the Stockholm Convention recommended adding PFOA to Annex A of the convention, which slates it for global elimination.

Joe DiGangi, the senior science and technical advisor of Ipen, said that discussions so far indicate this will be approved.

“It appears that there will be an agreement to enact a global ban on PFOA,” Dr DiGangi said. “So the nature of the discussion is really focused on how many exemptions will be present in that global ban, and that discussion is happening now.”

The Convention is considering ten exemptions, among them the use of PFOA in firefighting foam. Fluorinated firefighting foam is a leading cause of contamination of water with carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting chemicals, according to Ipen.

Dr DiGangi said discussions are ongoing about what kind of guidance governments will receive about alternatives to PFOA in firefighting foam, and he advocated for discouraging substituting the substance for another fluorinated chemical. Ipen also advocates for the class of fluorinated organic compounds to be treated as a group.

Delegates are also debating whether to tighten controls on PFOS, which was added to the annex in 2009 but with several exemptions, including one for firefighting foam.

The review committee in October recommended removing several exemptions entirely, and phasing out the one on firefighting foam over five years.

Industry cautious

Thomas Leonhardt from Eurofeu, an association representing fire protection equipment and firefighting vehicles, said that fluorine-free foams can perform as well as their fluorinated counterparts when tackling some fires, but not all of them. He cited fuel fires as an area for which fluorinated foams are more efficient.

Eurofeu does not oppose adding PFOA to the Stockholm convention, Dr Leonhardt said, but it holds that a combination of fluorinated and non-fluorinated foams should be allowed in high-risk areas, like the chemical and aviation industries.

He also said most firefighters are used to handling fluorinated foam and will need to be trained on the differences in behavior between the two types.

“There are certain aspects linked to the chemistry of the firefighting foams and of the fact that a foam is fluorine-free that we have never considered before,” he said. “We have to do a much more in-depth risk analysis to be able to use a fluorine free-foam effectively.

“If we don’t do that, we sacrifice fire safety.”

*Original article online at https://chemicalwatch.com/77056/firefighters-call-for-fluorine-free-foam-at-international-pops-meeting