Frequently Asked Questions

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This page aims to provide you with answers to some of the questions frequently received by Environmental Science Solutions regarding fire retardants for use with bushfires in Australia. This information provided is a guide only. For further information contact the manufacturer or relevant health authority. 

What are fire retardants?

Fire retardants are used to slow the spread of bushfire. They are used by firefighters to help fight bushfires. Fire retardants are often dropped from aircraft to increase the coverage of the retardants. Fire retardants often contain a red pigment to aid in identification.


In Australia fire retardants containing per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are not permitted for use. 


Examples of fire retardants used in Australia include PHOS-CHEK D-75F and D-75R, Forexpan S and PHOS-CHECK WD881. 


State and territory health departments provide information regarding fire retardants used for bushfires. In New South Wales information is available at the following website:


 https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/factsheets/Pages/fire-retardants.aspx 

What are fire retardants made from?

The ingredients used in fire retardants used for bushfires in Australia are listed on the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) published by the manufacturer. Ingredients include:

PHOS-CHEK D-75F and D75R 

  • Diammonium Sulfate
  • Monoammonium Phosphate
  • Diammonium Phosphate
  • Guar Gum, hydroxypropyl
  • Performance additives (Trade Secret)

Forexpan S

  • Di-ethylene glycol monobutyl ether
  • Primary alcohol ether sulphate
  • Sulphosuccinate
  • Di-propylene glycol monomethyl ether
  • Primary alcohol blend
  • Corrosion inhibitor  

PHOS-CHEK WD881

  • Sulfonic acids, C14-C16-alkane, sodium salts
  • Hexylene glycol
  • Alcohols, C12-15
  • Other ingredients determined not to be hazardous

Are fire retardants safe for humans?

Fire retardants have been used extensively in Australian  and global bushfire fighting for many years. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) prepared a report in 2000 for the State of Victoria Department of Natural Resources and Environment examining the fire retardants used in Australia. The report is available at online: 

 

https://www.ffm.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/21060/Report-50-Assessment-of-the-Effectiveness-and-Environmental-Risk-of-the-Use-of-Retardants-to-Assist-in-Wi.pdf 


The SDS published by the manufacturer provides the following statements for the concentrate (note: fire retardants are usually diluted with water prior to application). 


 PHOS-CHEK D-75F and D75R  

     

  • Eye protection: this product does not cause  significant eye irritation or eye toxicity requiring special protection. Use  good industrial practice to avoid eye contact. 
  • Skin protection: although this product does not  present a significant skin concern, minimise skin contamination by following   good industrial practice. Wearing protective gloves is recommended. Wash   hands and contaminated skin thoroughly after handling. 
  • Respiratory Protection: Avoid breathing dust. Use  respirator when airborne exposure is excessing. Consult respirator   manufacturer to determine appropriate type equipment for given application. 
  • Attention! Repeated or prolonged inhalation may  cause allergic respiratory reaction in some people. 

Forexpan S

  • Irritating to the skin. 
  • Risk of serious damage to eyes. 
  • Inhalation of hazardous amounts is unlikely when used as intended. Is irritant to respiratory tract when inhaled. 
  • Low oral risk when used as intended. May cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea when ingested. 
  • Contact to eye or skin: low risk if appropriate precaution measures are taken. Can cause eye damage and skin irritation when in contact with eyes of skin. 
  • Use only in well ventilated areas 
  • Avoid prolonged, extensive or repeated inhalation or contact to eyes and skin. 
  • Were impervious gloves or an approved type
  • Wear safety goggles of an approved type.  

PHOS-CHEK WD881

  • Irritating to skin
  • Risk of serious eye damage
  • Ingestion: No significant adverse health effects are expected if only small amounts (less than a mouthful) are ingested. May produce abdominal discomfort.
  • Eyes: Strong eye irritant. Effects and symptoms depend on the duration, quantity and type of exposure (liquid, vapour, mist or aerosol). They may range from a burning sensation, lacrimation to reddening of the eyes to severe damage to the eyes. 
  • Skin: Irritant to the skin and mucous membranes. Effects and symptoms depend on the duration, quantity and type of exposure (liquid, vapour, mist or aerosol). They may range from a burning sensation, reddening of the skin, swelling to chemical burns. Risk of skin absorption. 
  • Inhaled: Mists, vapours or aerosols may cause irritation to the nose and upper respiratory system. Inhalation of high concentration of vapour may cause headache and nausea.  
  • Under condition of ordinary use and satisfactory ventilation, wear chemical safety goggles, suitable impermeable gloves, long sleeved overalls, and impervious boots and full length chemically resistant apron — as appropriate for the work environment. In the event of a large spill or if working in enclosed   areas, or if mists, aerosols or vapours are generated and their airborne concentration is  unknown wear, in the addition to the above, a full-face AS/NZ 1716 compliant cartridge type respirator with an organic vapour filter; combine it with a particulate filter in the presence of aerosols or mists (for selection guidance see AS/NZ 1715).

Are fire retardants safe for the environment?

Extensive research has been conducted into the impacts of fire retardants on the environment. Most of the research indicates insignificant impacts on terrestrial vegetation. Some research suggests that certain plant varieties become stressed when exposed to fire retardants. Other research indicates that invasive species become more prevalent. 


Fire retardants can have negative impacts on the aquatic environment. The SDS published by the manufacturer states for the products in their concentrate form: 


Forexpan S

  • Harmful to aquatic organisms. May cause long-term adverse effects in the aquatic environment.
  • Spillage: The practice of washing spills into drains should be avoided if at all possible and should under no circumstances be allowed without first consulting the local Water Authority and Environment Agency.  

PHOS-CHEK WD881 

  • Avoid release into the environment. 
  • Special precautions (environment): Do not allow this material to contaminate soil, sewerage systems, surface or ground water. 

What do I do if my drinking water is impacted by fire retardants?

The New South Wales Department of Health provides the following advice regarding fire retardants and drinking water:

 

"The most effective way to prevent contamination of your water tank is to ensure that your tank is properly sealed.

  • Disconnect your water tank as soon as there is a bush fire risk to prevent contaminated water from entering it.
  • Install a first flush diverter or make sure the first part of runoff after rain cannot go into your tank. This will prevent any water runoff from your roof containing fire retardant from entering your tank. It will also prevent embers, ash and other contaminants from entering your drinking water. The roof should also be cleaned after the bushfire.

If the fire retardant does enter your water tank:

  • Do not drink the water or use for food preparation. High levels of ammonia and sulfate in water may make it smell unpleasant and taste salty. It will not be suitable as drinking water for humans or animals (pets or livestock). The water can still be used for irrigation and fire-fighting purposes. Boiling the water will not remove contamination."

 https://www.health.nsw.gov.au/environment/factsheets/Pages/fire-retardants.aspx 

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