Agency wants limits on fire foam pollution in Sweden

A firefighter in training with fire retardant foam. What effect does foam have on the environment? (iStock)
A firefighter in training with fire retardant foam. What effect does foam have on the environment and water supply? (iStock)
The Swedish Chemicals Agency is calling for limitations to be in place on the use of foam to fight fires, saying the chemical can contaminate water supplies.

“Highly fluorinated substances from fire foam remain in nature for an extremely long period of time and may threaten the drinking water supply,” says Inger Cederberg, an investigator at the agency. “That’s why it is important that, as much as possible, to reduce the usage of this type of foam.”

The agency says PFAS substances, contained in fire-extinguishing liquids and foams, can cause health problems and are often found close to airports and fire drill sites or in areas where firefighting has taken place. In some cases, the substances have led to authorities shutting down water supplies near the site.

Exploring alternatives

For example, in the southern towns of Kallinge and Ronneby, 5,000 residents were told in December 2013 that their drinking water was contaminated with a now banned PFAS chemical. The source of the contamination was a firefighting training site at a nearby air force base.

As a result, the agency is proposing that from the first of next year the foam may only be used when it can be collected after the fire and destroyed. Exceptions will be allowed in emergency situations during fires in fluids, as well as for the use at sea and in the training of the Armed Forces.

The proposal also includes tasking the government with investigating whether completely fluorine-free alternatives would be ready for use in 2019.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Report warns more Arctic shipping will increase warming, affect health, Radio Canada International

Finland:  Finnish air pollution shortens life, Yle News

Greenland: Study finds increase in litter on Arctic seafloor, Blog by Mia Bennett

Russia:  Norilsk, Russia -The inescapability of the company town on Russia’s tundra, Blog by Mia Bennett

Sweden: Stockholm cleans up and passes air quality test, Radio Sweden

United States:  Mining corporation a no-show in court as environmental criminal case moves forward, Alaska Dispatch News


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