Fire Protection Systems: Environmental Changes

Posted by Lee Kaiser on Mar 14, 2018 8:09:00 AM

The Montreal Protocol was agreed upon in 1987 and effectively banned Halon, one of the most popular and effective agents for suppressing fires. Since that time, many Halon systems are stilll in use, but the price of the gas has greatly increased. Today, proposed environmental agreements have put into question the continued use of halofluorocarbons used in clean agent systems. In this video, fire protection expert Lee Kaiser describes these changes, ORR's predictions for the future, and what to expect when maintaining or installing fire suppression systems.



Lee: "Now, the last thing is this section is a environmental/political discussion. We've got to do a little history lesson to make that make sense.  In 1987 a number of developed countries in the world all agreed on the Montreal Protocol, and that was accord between developed countries to reduce the production of ozone-depleting chemicals.  For the fire suppression industry, what that did was, basically, it banned HalonWho's heard of Halon before?  Halon was a great agent for extinguishing fires, but now it's been replaced by clean agent systems because Halon was an ozone-depleting chemical, so we stopped using and producing Halon systems in 1994.  It started the search for alternatives.

Changes After Halon Ban

In the United States the U.S. EPA started the SNAP program, the Significant New Alternative Program, which developed the current class of clean agents that we use today.  It also renewed the interest in water mist systems. There's more impetus to use those types of systems, even though they've been around for a while and also started a new industry called a Halon banking industry or recycling industry where smart companies with a lot of capital, before they stopped producing Halon, they bought a lot of it, so they fill up their bank with Halon, so that when you have an existing Halon system and it discharges, if not making any more of it, where do you go to buy it? Well, you go to one of the Halon banking companies and buy some of theirs. 

It basically allowed the use of grandfathered Halon systems. So they're still allowed to be used today, we're just not putting any new ones in. We used to be able, as early as 2 years ago, we could buy Halon for around $6 a pound, but now the cost went up to $35 a pound, so there's significant increase of the cost, and so for users of Halon, if you have a discharge now, there's enough cost in buying the new juice to put in the tanks that you can consider financially replacing it with a new clean agent system and all the hardware that's out there and available to be used. That's one major change that's happened in the last year with Halon systems.

Amendment to the Montreal Protocol

Let's keep talking about their environmental issues. I don't want to make any political comments one way or another, but 2016 was a really interesting political year, if you like to follow politics, and obviously we had another presidential election. Before the Obama administration left office, they participated in another meeting of the Montreal Protocol countires and they agreed to an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, which was to reduce, or have a phasedown, of the use of HFC chemicals, so those are halofluorocarbons. The halofluorocarbons that we use in clean agents are FM-200, FE-13 (something we haven't talked about yet), and ECARO-25, okay. This hasn't been entered into force yet because Congress has to ratify it. In November, we had an election and the balance of power changed hands, so the question is, is the United States Congress going to sign on to this amendment to the Montreal Protocol? The Trump administration has signaled both ways. When they first came into office, they said it's off the table, we're not going to support it. But now they've come back in the last couple months and given some indications that they might want to support it. Even some companies that manufacture HFCs are lobbying the Trump administration and Congress to go ahead and go with that, so they can have the next version of chemicals that we use in clean agents be brought to market because of the phasedown of HFCs.

So, looking into the crystal ball, what's going to happen? Here's our best guesses. Eventually there's going to be additional regulation, whether Congress does it this year, next year, or 5 years down the road, we think that there's going to be additional regulation on HFC gases. It's going to be a reduction, but not a ban. It will impact FM-200, ECARO-25, and FE-13, generally pretty limited use in the continental U.S. we used a lot more as it gets colder in Canada and the north slope of Alaska. When it gets implemented, it's going to impact prices because other users, industries, that use HFCs, are going to have to be regulated more than the fire suppression industry. As manufacturers make less of those chemicals, it's going to increase our costs to use those types of chemicals.

NExt Steps

So what do you do? If you have an FM-200 or ECARO-25 system, it's going to be around for a long time. Don't panic. Existing systems just do nothing. You'll be able to buy agent for a long time because we'll have a new industry called a FM-200 banking industry and you'll be able to buy FM-200 for a long time. Now, new systems, you've got some options, so you need to consider other non-regulated chemicals. 3M NOVEC 1230 is a chemical that's not going to be regulated. It's not a halofluoracarbon. It's actually a fluorinated ketone, so a different chemical class and we don't expect it to be regulated, or you could use inert gases. Inergen, Argonite, ProInert, those are other options for you."

Topics: Fire Protection Services, Suppression, Fire Protection Systems, Video Blogs, Nationwide

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