Supporting a safe transition to fluorine free firefighting foam

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John Ottesen, Founder and CEO of Fomtec, discusses Fomtec’s continuing supply of C6 foams in during the transition to fluorine free firefighting foam

The fire safety industry is currently facing a critical juncture with the widespread scrutiny and reconsideration of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in firefighting foams.

These substances, known for their effectiveness in extinguishing difficult fires, particularly those involving flammable liquids, are now under the spotlight for their environmental and health implications.

PFASs due to their highly stable chemical structure, do not break down in the environment, leading to long-term persistence and potential accumulation in the ecosystem and human body.

This durability, once deemed a benefit for fire suppression, has raised significant environmental concerns.

Studies have linked PFAS exposure to various health issues, and their presence in soil and water systems has become a growing public health concern.

Consequently, there has been a global push towards developing and adopting synthetic fluorine-free foams (SFFFs) that offer effective fire suppression capabilities without the environmental and health risks associated with PFAS.

Despite the clear environmental imperative, the transition to SFFFs is not straightforward.

It involves challenges related to performance standards, compatibility with existing fire suppression systems, and regulatory compliance.

The fire safety industry is thus at a crossroads, balancing the need for effective fire suppression with the urgent requirement to mitigate environmental and health impacts.

IFSJ Editor Iain Hoey caught up with John Ottesen, Founder and CEO of Fomtec to discuss this transition.

Ottesen, a key figure in the industry, shares his insights and perspectives on this transition.

His views shed light on the complexities of moving away from PFAS-based foams, the current state of SFFF technology, and the strategic approaches necessary for a safer and environmentally responsible future in fire safety.

You recently announced a commitment to continue to supply PFAS-based foams – isn’t this in contradiction to your Enviro Programme ?

To date we’ve conducted 2,500 fire tests in our Enviro Programme, affirming our commitment to transitioning away from PFAS foams.

There’s no question in my mind that the future is fluorine-free but the industry has talked about making this transition to SFFF in a safe way and Fomtec believe that continuing to support those end users with C6 foam as they make this transition is not a contradiction at all.

There’s no question about that.

So, no, it’s not a contradiction at all.

In fact, we are responding to the industry’s longstanding call for support in making a safe transition.

To be able to make the safe transition, we have called for derogations from ECHA in their proposals to the European Union for legislation which should become law in the EU next year.

They are going to come up with timelines for various different industries, giving derogation time for those industries to be able to make a safe transition.

We recognise the derogations within the ECHA proposals and we are going to be able to continue to supply customers who can’t make the transition immediately.

We’re going to carry on selling our C6-pure products to them for as long as they’re needed.

Does your comment include only existing EU PFOA laws, or does it cover the proposed PFAS foam legislation?

Concerning PFOA, Fomtec’s range of fluorinated products is in full compliance with the existing EU legislation on PFOA, as well as PFOS and PFHxS.

What I’m talking about here is going forwards with the new legislation proposal, which is on the table now, where a timeline is going to be put in place for the total phase out of PFAS foam altogether.

That’s where derogations will be given by ECHA and the European Union, allowing industry to make a planned and safe transition over a period of up to 10 years.

I have to underline what I mean by safe transition: this transition is not about dropping in a new foam concentrate, it’s a holistic change that needs to take place in order to make sure that the systems are up to scratch, enabling safe fire protection.

Forcing a swift transition may overlook necessary holistic changes, compromising safety.

It’s really important that we avoid transition that is not holistic in its approach.

Should customers be stockpiling their C6 PFAS foam now?

I don’t see any need to do that as we at Fomtec are committing to continue to produce and offer our C6 products, which are high-performance and fully approved.

Obviously, there’s a lot of details behind the fixed systems, but I don’t see any reason to stockpile product because they would want fresh product.

We have made this statement for that very purpose: to reassure people that we will be there for them and support them in your transition, supplying the C6 product they need whilst they plan how to effectively make your transition

What would Fomtec recommend for client looking to put in a new system today?

I think that anybody who contacts Fomtec these days regardless if there need is for an existing or a new system, we will certainly recommend the use of the fluorine-free foam backed by all the associated testing and approvals we have obtained four our SFFF.

All our data allows us to be able to advise on effective transition and deployment of the new SFFF’s.

That’s our default position.

When the customer is unable to do that, then we are ready to supply C6 foam.

Our product is amongst the purest products there ever was for C6, but we will absolutely recommend the use of fluorine-free foam as a default position.

How does Fomtec approach fluorinated foam requests outside the EU?

We’ll emphasize the performance of our new products, advocating for their deployment.

However if the customer insists then we will supply our C6 product as long as we are allowed to do so.

The European legislation doesn’t only regulate what we can supply within in the European Union, but the proposed legislation also places a timeline on what we are allowed supply outside of the European Union.

When that derogation in Europe is finished, we as a European company cannot carry on manufacturing anymore, and that that will affect our export as well.

Is continuing PFAS foam supply environmentally sustainable?

For years, the industry has communicated to legislators the necessity of derogations.

The reason is that this transition for many customers is going to take time, and transition needs to be done in a safe way.

It is a holistic system change, not a change of few litres of foam.

That is why we recognise and still believe that a lot of customers will not be able to make an immediate or swift transition.

We believe that if a customer is not able to top up or refill their existing foam system that this could leave them exposed to fire without the protection they need.

We don’t want to leave our customers to have to make choices about their level of fire protection.

We should not underestimate the environmental impact of an incident that is allowed to develop because of inadequate or no fire protection.

Ensuring that our customers maintain a functional C6 system response as they plan for transition is, in my opinion, an environmentally responsible approach.

We are going to encourage all our clients to engage in a transition programme as soon as they possibly can, but I thought that industry was serious in asking for derogations and I still believe that many customers will need the time to plan and execute the transition.

I think we should also not underestimate how seriously foam users take their commitment to the environment and the vast majority are acutely aware of their requirement to contain PFAS run off and make sure it does not enter the environment.

Do you think that the derogations proposed by ECHA meet industry requirements?

Fomtec agrees with the proposed derogations from ECHA as these were based on extensive investigations, debates and hearings and we feel it is correct to accept that ECHA as the regulator is making a safe and considered ruling on these derogations.

Any final comments?

Developing Enviro SFFF’s that allow safe transitions with minimal impact on the system or deployment of foam remains our number one focus at Fomtec.

We talk with our clients daily about making the transition to SFFF’s with the recommendation to proceed as quickly as possible.

At the same time we want to assure our existing clients and industry in general that whilst they prepare for this transition we will continue to support them with C6 foams if they require them.

Intersec Dubai will take place between the 16th and 18th of January at the Dubai World Trade Centre, Dubai. Fomtec’s Stand Number is Stand 2.G30

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

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