A step too far?

Published:  13 May, 2015

Just as the US Government is reinforcing the EPA PFOA Stewardship Program with regulations the European Chemicals Agency is holding a public consultation on even stricter regulations that could seriously impact foam manufacturers and users, writes Tom Cortina of the Fire Fighting Foam Coalition.

As voluntary measures to eliminate the production of long-chain perfluoroalkyl chemicals (LCPFACs) such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) become fully effective at the end of this year, environmental authorities in the United States and Europe are proposing regulations to reinforce these voluntary programs. Fluorochemical and foam manufacturers generally support these regulatory proposals as long as they allow for the use of short-chain (C6) fluorotelomers as alternatives. While LCPFACs such as PFOA are considered to be persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT), short-chain fluorotelomers have been shown to be low in toxicity and not bioaccumulative.

In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR) that would act as a ban on the manufacture, import or processing after 2015 of LCPFACs for any new use and any existing uses that are not ongoing. The SNUR is intended to provide a regulatory backstop to the US EPA 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program. Under that program eight fluorochemical manufacturers voluntarily agreed to work toward elimination of PFOA, PFOA precursors, and related higher homologue chemicals by year-end 2015 from both plant emissions and product content. EPA reports that all eight manufacturers are on schedule to meet their commitments.

As proposed, the SNUR would be expected to have minimal impact on the production and use of fire fighting foams. Once all current foam manufacturers have fully transitioned to the use of only short-chain (C6) fluorochemicals, the SNUR would effectively stop anyone else from manufacturing or importing fire fighting foams that contain LCPFACs by requiring them to notify EPA prior to undertaking the activity. The SNUR would therefore provide protection for manufacturers that are expending significant resources to reformulate all of their fluorinated foam products in order to complete this environmentally beneficial transition.

In the European Union, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is currently holding a public consultation on a restriction proposed by Germany and Norway on PFOA, its salts, and PFOA-related substances. Similar to the EPA SNUR, the proposed restriction would cover the manufacturing, use, and placing on the market of LCPFACs as a substance, as a constituent of other substances, or in mixtures. Unlike the SNUR, the proposed restriction would also cover articles (products) containing LCPFACs.

The public consultation on the proposed restriction ends on 17 June 2015. Within three months after the public consultation closes, the ECHA’s Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) will adopt its opinion on whether the suggested restriction is the appropriate measure to reduce risk to human health and the environment. The ECHA’s Committee for Socio-Economic Analysis will also publish an opinion on the proposed restriction that is subject to a 60-day public consultation. ECHA then forwards the opinions of the two committees to the European Commission. Based on these opinions, the Commission will draft an amendment to the list of restrictions (Annex XVII of REACH) within three months for review by the European Council of Ministers and European Parliament.

The proposed restriction currently includes an extremely low concentration limit of 2 parts per billion (ppb) for PFOA and PFOA-related substances that cannot be achieved in the production of fire fighting foams and would result in a de facto ban on the use of fluorinated foams in the EU. As fluorinated foams are the most effective agents currently available to protect life, high-value property and the environment from the risk of flammable liquid fires in military, oil and gas, municipal, and aviation applications, such a result would have an extremely negative impact on fire safety in Europe. Not surprisingly, foam manufacturers and users have very serious concerns about the impact of this proposed limit and have expressed them to ECHA in early submissions on the consultation. We would urge all foam manufacturers and users that could be impacted by this proposed limit to submit comments to ECHA prior to the June deadline.

The limit on PFOA and related substances may have been purposely set at a low level initially to draw from industry information on what levels can be technically achieved and measured for different applications. It appears that the proposal was not intended to restrict the use of short-chain fluorochemicals, as it refers to them as important substitutes for LCPFACs. The unavailability of short-chain alternatives would drastically change the cost and feasibility of the proposed restriction and lead to a large number of possible derogations (exemptions). Thus, it is likely that the 2 ppb concentration limit for PFOA and related substances will be re-evaluated as the regulation moves through the evaluation process.

The environmental impact of fire fighting foams has been drastically reduced over the last decade with the elimination of PFOS foams, an increased focus on minimising foam discharges, and the ongoing transition to short-chain (C6) fluorotelomer surfactants. Regulatory proposals such as those described above are important steps to reinforce these gains by ensuring that there can be no move back into the use of long-chain fluorochemicals. Industry fully supports these proposals as long as they don’t have the unintended consequence of also restricting the use of critical short-chain alternatives.

  • Operation Florian

Sign up: eMagazine & eNewsletter

The latest issues in your inbox.

Company Profiles

Renka´s Fire Engine No. 1

Firefighting, fast, safe, everywhere. Michael Renka GmbH, based in Germany, is a manufacturer of firefighting vehicles, pumps and rescue equipment.

Waterax - We move water

Trusted by wildland firefighters around the world, WATERAX sets the industry standard by developing innovative, portable fire pumps and water-handling equipment designed to withstand demanding applications and rugged environments.

Big Water Flow for Industrial and Municipal Firefighting Applications

Protecting the lives of the public and firefighters while limiting the structural damage caused in large scale fires is our primary mission

We are committed to improving lives and doing business in the right way

We have a unique mix of capability and culture that we refer to as 3M Science and we strive to develop products that improve people’s daily lives in a multitude of ways.

HazSim - Bringing situational HazMat training to life

HazSim, LLC provides innovative simulation training to ensure your team works safely and effectively. HazSim Pro simulation equipment is in use by hundreds of fire departments, training schools, industrial fire teams, and private trainers across the US, Canada and further afield as well as the US Army.

The ultimate in innovation, quality and service

For 60 years Lehavot has been delivering the world’s most advanced fire detection and suppression automatic systems

Advancing rescue technology

The specialist supplier of quality PPE and Rescue Equipment to Emergency Services.

Revolutionizing fire fighting foam technology

The one-stop resource for fire fighting foam concentrates and custom-designed foam suppression systems hardware.

Trust the best, let us be your foam solution

AUXQUIMIA is a Spanish company whose main activity is the design, manufacture and commercialization of firefighting foam concentrates.

Williams Fire & Hazard Control offers a full line of specialized fire response equipment for oil and gas platforms

From storage tanks and pipeline emergencies to offshore platforms and vessels at sea, Williams' response personnel and specialized equipment quickly address adverse fire emergencies.

The leader in truck-mounted hydraulic platforms

Our mission is to provide the best and the safest solution to professionals that work at height.

If you want quality, you want Zico

Since its inception Ziamatic Corp has provided the men and women of the fire service with products designed to make their jobs safer and easier.

The independent alternative

Dafo Fomtec AB is a privately owned company with head office in Stockholm Sweden and manufacturing in Helsingborg in the south of Sweden.