South Australia bans fluorinated fire-fighting foams

Published:  01 February, 2018

The ban comes into effect from 30 January following the amendment of the Environment Protection (Water Quality) Policy 2015 under the Environment Protection Act 1993. 

South Australia is the first state in Australia to ban what it describes as potentially hazardous fluorinated fire-fighting foams to protect its waterways and groundwater.

The ban highlights the increasingly tough stance being taken on AFFFs in Australia. In July 2016 Queensland published a new operational policy for firefighting foam with highly restrictive management requirements – not an outright ban on AFFF.

Fluorinated fire-fighting foams include those containing perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). Per- and poly-fluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) are man-made chemicals that persist in the environment for long periods of time. They have historically been used in a number of manufacturing processes and as aqueous firefighting foam.

According to an official statement, consultation on the ban began in April 2017 and included ‘numerous sessions with industry, community and individuals’.

The ban applies to all applications of fluorinated firefighting foams - not just PFOA and PFOS containing foams – within a compliance period of two years for non-handheld applications; for portable extinguishers the ban takes effect upon re-charge/re-fill or within two years of commencement of the policy, whichever is earlier.

According to the amendments to the Policy, fire extinguishers should be “thoroughly cleaned so as to remove, as far as reasonably practicable, any residual prohibited fire-fighting foam product or prohibited fire-fighting foam.” In addition, “any prohibited fire-fighting foam product, prohibited firefighting foam or wastewater produced in the cleaning process is collected, securely contained and disposed of to a facility, or stored in a manner, approved by the Authority.”

Furthermore, fire-fighting foams will require certification of fluorine concentrations provided by suppliers.

Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Minister Ian Hunter commented: “This ban on fluorinated fire-fighting foams will effectively negate further environmental and human health risks associated with their use and provide the community and industry with certainty around the use of these products.”

Hunter said that the EPA would work directly with industry needing to transition through licensing, guidelines and the development of environment improvement programs. “Considerable work is also underway nationally, led by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, in the management of legacy contamination from fluorinated fire-fighting foams,” he added.

The possibility of a ban was first proposed in February last year and was followed by the development of a draft amendment and an eight-week consultation period that began in April.

A public consultation session in May was attended by the petroleum industry, fire protection services, foam manufacturers, EPA licensees, members of the United Firefighters Union of Australia, Metropolitan and Country Fire Services and the general public.

The new Policy is available to download below.

Photo: amophoto_au / Shutterstock.com

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