Helping to Guide the Development of Safe and Effective Firefighting Foams
Why It Matters
Water is one of the most effective extinguishing agents for many different firefighting applications, but for certain types of fires, or fires in remote locations, water alone may not be enough. In the fire suppression industry, that is where firefighting foams come in. They provide a reliable and effective means for fighting all types of fires – from fuel storage tank fires to aircraft hangar fires, and many in between. When applied to a fire hazard, firefighting foam creates a blanket that cuts off oxygen to the fuel source and prevents the release of flammable vapors. The foam can also help cool a fire and aid in extinguishment with water by lowering the water’s surface tension.
A common type of foam, aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF), has very effective firefighting capabilities, but also contains per- and/or poly-fluorinated substances (PFAS), which are known as “forever chemicals” because they do not readily break down in nature, causing them to bioaccumulate in people and wildlife. Research has linked high levels of exposure to some PFAS with serious health issues including cancer, weakened immune systems and reproductive issues.
Currently, the fire industry is working to develop alternatives to AFFFs that are as effective at fighting fires, but do not contain intentionally added PFAS. Through the work of our technical committees (TCs), we are collaborating with fire service experts, researchers, government officials and equipment developers to help guide the development of safe and effective alternatives.
What We’re Doing
Our Standard, UL 162, the Standard for Foam Equipment and Liquid Concentrates, provides requirements for equipment and liquid concentrates used in the production and discharge of low-expansion firefighting foams. The Standard covers a range of criteria, from requirements for the foam equipment construction to fire tests that measure a liquid concentrate’s performance. It was recently revised to incorporate changes that are representative of the future of firefighting foams and their usage of PFAS.
In the latest revision, a new definition was added for an alternative to AFFF known as Synthetic Fluorine-Free Foam (SFFF). The definition for SFFF is as follows: A foam liquid concentrate that has a base other than fluorinated surfactant or hydrolyzed protein; and shall be formulated such that it does not contain intentionally added per- and/or poly-fluorinated substances (“PFAS”).
In addition to this new definition, a new performance requirement was added to help limit the concentration of PFAS in fluorine-free foam liquid concentrates. The performance test requires a PFAS concentration of no more than one milligram per liter total organic fluorine (TOF) when measured by combustion ion chromatography. As the fire industry begins to transition away from AFFFs, this test and other codes and standards solutions will be critical to helping guide the development of new foam technologies that can help extinguish fires safely and effectively.
How You Can Help
At UL Standards & Engagement, we leverage scientific and testing expertise and the collective wisdom of our technical committee (TC) members and stakeholders to determine which changes are made to a standard. This is done through a consensus-based process that helps assure all stakeholder groups are represented.
TC members represent a variety of interests, including industry, academia, government, retail, and manufacturing. Our open process allows anyone to get involved in standards development by submitting a proposal or commenting on a proposal. If you are involved in the fire service, fire protection, or related industries, or have a regulatory or other interest in advancing fire safety, please consider sharing your expertise by getting involved in standards development.