Firefighting foam regulation

March 20, 2024

Fredric Pettersson, Sales Director, Fire Safety Group, Perimeter Solutions, talks safer suppression solutions

The global fire safety industry’s transition to fluorine-free started a quarter century ago.

In the 1990s, scientists started raising concerns about whether the use of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foam and other products had an impact on humans.

A few years later, 3M, the world’s largest producer of fluorinated foams and the fluorochemicals used to produce them, decided to exit the business.

It was at this time that the conversation about the use of PFAS started grabbing more attention – from the fire safety industry and regulators.

In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a new voluntary stewardship program with the eight largest manufacturers of fluorochemicals.

It was called the 2010/2015 PFOA Stewardship Program, and the participants established a goal to reduce the amount of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid, a synthetic PFAS chemical) by 95 percent by the year 2010, and by 99.5 percent by 2015.

In 2009, international restrictions were introduced when PFOS (perfluorooctanoic sulfonic acid, another synthetic PFAS chemical) and related compounds were included under Annex B of the Stockholm Convention for Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), restricting their use and production in the more than 100 ratifying countries.

Inclusion in Annex B only required countries to reduce the risk, but not eliminate the use of PFOS and related compounds, and many countries did take steps to reduce risks associated with PFAS.

In 2019, PFOA and PFOA-related compounds were added to Annex A of the Stockholm Convention list, which calls for the elimination of their use.

The following year, the European Commission published the Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, which included the phase out of PFAS in the EU, unless their use is essential.

Fluorine-free innovation

Before the US and EU started introducing regulations to address the use of fluorinated foams in firefighting foam, Perimeter Solutions had already taken the initiative to develop SFFF technology that would help the industry to reduce its reliance on AFFF.

The company started research and development on SFFF in 2000, and within the next ten years it had built a broad portfolio of fluorine-free alternatives.

While developing this technology, the focus was to create fluorine-free foam that had comparable efficacy to the AFFF solutions that had served firefighters so well for the past 40 years.

Perimeter Solutions began collaborating closely with clients who took a proactive approach to making the switch to SFFF alternatives, including international airports, end users in the oil and gas industry and fire departments.

Perimeter tailored fire safety system transitions that suited each project’s unique requirements.

The complexity of these projects is influenced by various factors, such as application type, individual needs, and the current design of the system being replaced.

Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam was eager to make the transition to synthetic fluorine-free foam (SFFF) and was concerned about maintaining their level of firefighting performance.

Active fires are not a frequent occurrence at the airport, but the airport’s fire brigade wanted to upgrade their trucks to provide sustainable firefighting performance with their trucks.

Hans Harding, manager of the department Risk Management and Operations at Perimeter Solutions, said: “They also needed to achieve the same performance they had with their existing foam, and that is why it was so important to select the right SFFF  for the transition.

There are huge stakes at the airport if one of our trucks doesn’t perform well.

For the fire brigade of Schiphol, it’s literally a matter of life and death,” said

After conducting research on the SFFF market, Schiphol selected SOLBERG® RE-HEALING™ Fluorine-Free Firefighting Foam (RF3x6), a sustainable, fluorosurfactants and fluoropolymer-free foam concentrate that is used to extinguish Class B fuels, developed specifically to replace traditional AFFF and alcohol-resistant AFFF concentrates, like those previously used at Schiphol Airport.

We also partnered with the Pennsylvania, US-based Lehigh Valley Airport Authority on a project to modernize their fluorinated foam system within one of their expansive 40,000 square foot hangars.

This is considered one of the largest hangar sizes and is a National Fire Protection Association 409 Group 1 hangar.

That means that it requires an aircraft access door height of more than 28’, it can house an aircraft with a tail height over 28’, and that it needs to have a single fire area in excess of 40,000 square feet.

We converted their deluge fire sprinkler system, initially designed for 0.16 gallons per minute per square foot and retrofitted the existing system to employ SOLBERG RE-HEALING RF3 3% Class B Foam Concentrate, a fluorine-free alternative with the same design application rate as their previous AFFF foam.

This strategic choice eliminated the need for extensive changes to discharge devices and piping infrastructure, significantly reducing the overall investment.

The upgrade simply involved introducing new foam storage, adjusting the proportioner, and adopting the new foam formulation.

Certified safe

Perimeter’s suppressant team has been highly active in the US, helping airports make the transition to SOLBERG® 3% MIL-SPEC SFFF, the company’s newest fluorine-free solution.

SOLBERG 3% MIL-SPEC SFFF was the first SFFF foam concentrate to be added to the United States Department of Defense Qualified Products List (QPL).

As of February 2024, the foam concentrate became the first fluorine-free firefighting foam concentrate on the Department of Defense Qualified Products List (QPL) to be GreenScreen Certified® by Clean Production Action (CPA).

Firefighting foams that are GreenScreen Certified meet stringent requirements established by CPA and are confirmed to be fluorine-free with no intentionally added per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs).

With a fluorine-free solution added to the QPL, US federal regulations give airports and other government agencies required to use MIL-SPEC-qualified products the ability to transition from AFFF to an SFFF solution.

SOLBERG 3% MIL-SPEC SFFF is specifically designed for fast knockdown and extinguishment of gasoline and Jet A fuel spills as identified in MIL-PRF-32725 (I1), a specification for land-based, freshwater applications introduced in January 2023.

The new foam easily exceeds the MIL-SPEC’s expansion ratio, burn back, and 25% drain time requirements, and also meets its saltwater requirements, based on internal testing.

Airports around the country started reaching out to Perimeter Solutions before its SOLBERG 3% MIL-SPEC product was even added to the QPL, so that they could be early adopters of the new technology.

This article was originally published in the March 2024 issue of Fire & Safety Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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