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The Fluorine Free Goal

Changing to Fluorine Free fire fighting foams.

The fire fighting foams that we have used for more than 50 years contain fluorinated surfactants. It has long been known that these chemicals are extremely slow to break down once they are released into the environment (persistent). In the early 2000’s it became obvious that they were accumulating in the human and animal populations as well (bio-accumulation). Since then the more concerns have arisen about possible toxic effects. Eight carbon chain fluorinated surfactants (C8) were removed from production and replaced by six carbon (C6) surfactants which are not known to be bio-accumulative or toxic.

The C6 fluorinated surfactants must be seen as an interim step in the development of fire fighting foams. Our end goal has to be fire fighting foams with minimal long term environmental impact as soon as possible.

Fluorine free products are now available but the changeover is not going to be simple as the technology is not sufficient to replace fluorinated products in key applications. Most foam system design standards do not currently allow the use of fluorine free foams, and for very good reasons. Fluorine free foams have yet to be proven in most fixed fire system applications.

It should be noted that AFFF technology did not simply get UL approval and become widely used, it went through substantial large scale testing first. Fluorine free foams have not had any such testing as yet, so they must be considered unproven technology for most applications at this time.

The immediate change from fluorinated foams to fluorine free foams has major problems.

  1. We have more than 50 years of design, test & fire fighting experience for fluorinated foams. We don’t have that body of experience for fluorine free foams. This makes changing over to Fluorine Free Foam very challenging. Read more here…
  2. Fluorine free foams differ greatly from fluorinated foams in their extinguishing mechanisms. Read more here…
  3. Large tank fires, sub-surface injection and non-aspirated application by monitors would all seem to be unsuitable for fluorine free foams at this time. Specialised testing is needed to prove them for these applications. Read more here…  and here…
  4. Flow characteristics of different products can be radically different. Read more here… 
  5. Standard fire tests (UL162, EN1568 etc.) do not qualify products for all applications. UL 162 has tests for sprinkler applications, top side & sub-surface application. UL162 & EN1568 do not qualify products for aspirated or non-aspirated application by monitors. Product demonstration videos are NOT a substitute for proper testing. Read more here…
  6. Decontamination of existing systems may be quite challenging. Fluorinated surfactants are difficult to remove from some tank materials and cleaning pumps and valves may be difficult or impossible in same cases.

Human ingenuity being what it is, it is quite possible that new technologies can be developed to provide similar fire fighting performance to current fluorine containing foams. Some silicone surfactants have already demonstrated the ability to create an aqueous film but quite possibly will not provide the same fuel shedding capabilities. Silicone surfactants may also not end up being usable due to potential persistence problems. The fuel shedding properties of fluorinated foams is very important in quite a few applications, sub-surface, monitor , tank fire fighting and non-aspirated applications to name some of the most important.

This section of our website is dedicated to providing as much information as we can gather to help people manage the transition to fluorine free foams as painlessly as possible. There will be quite a number of topics covered to provide background to this debate.

These web pages are a work in progress. It contains the best information we have available at the time of writing but is bound to be incomplete and new information will become available regularly (we hope). We welcome input from the industry to correct any mistakes and to add to the information that is available. Feedback should be directed to FlourineFree AT orion-fire.com.

Everyone should evaluate the options carefully, to that end there are quite a few references provide here so that people can do their own research. Question what you are told.

Our thanks for any help that we receive.