US Forest Service halts contract for magnesium chloride aerial fire retardants citing safety concerns

March 26, 2024

USFS suspends use of magnesium chloride fire retardants for 2024

The US Forest Service (USFS) has decided against entering a contract with Compass Minerals for the deployment of magnesium chloride-based aerial fire retardants in the 2024 fire season.

This decision came after inspections revealed corrosion in airtankers used for distributing the company’s fire retardants.

The inspections, part of the USFS’ Integrated Operational Field Evaluation (I-OFE) conducted during the winter, identified significant corrosion in areas with accumulations of Fortress North America’s proprietary magnesium chloride-based retardants.

These findings have prompted a detailed safety assessment by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Edward C. Dowling Jr., President and CEO of Compass Minerals, expressed disappointment but acknowledged the importance of safety: “While we are disappointed with the findings of the initial inspection, we share the USFS’ prioritization of safety above all other factors.

As we work collaboratively with the USFS, NTSB, and NIST on the more detailed assessment to be conducted, we have to assume based on this new information that Fortress’ proprietary, magnesium chloride-based aerial fire-retardant formulation will not be utilized for the foreseeable future in the fight against wildfires.”

A setback for Compass Minerals and Fortress North America

In December 2022, Fortress North America made history by becoming the first company in over twenty years to have its long-term aerial fire retardants added to the USFS’ Qualified Product List (QPL).

Its products, FR-100 Powder and FR-200 Liquid Concentrate, had successfully passed the USFS’ stringent tests for environmental impact, toxicity, corrosion, and burn retardation efficacy.

Following this achievement, Fortress entered a contract with the USFS in May 2023 to provide mobile-deployed fire-retardant air tanker bases for the wildfire season.

The discovery of corrosion issues during negotiations for the 2024 season has led to a reassessment of the use of magnesium chloride-based retardants.

Compass Minerals’ response and future plans

In light of the USFS’ decision and the ongoing safety assessments, Compass Minerals is focusing on developing and qualifying non-magnesium chloride-based aerial fire-retardant products.

The company’s commitment to safety and environmental responsibility remains steadfast as it navigates through the challenges posed by the recent findings.

FSJA Comment

The US Forest Service’s decision to halt the use of magnesium chloride-based aerial fire retardants for the 2024 wildfire season underscores the complexity of balancing firefighting efficacy with safety and environmental considerations.

This situation highlights the importance of thorough product testing and evaluation in real-world conditions, not just for immediate effectiveness but also for long-term impacts, such as equipment corrosion.

The involvement of multiple federal agencies in assessing the safety concerns indicates the seriousness with which such decisions are made, reflecting a broader commitment to both public and environmental health.

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