Are There Any Health or Environmental Concerns?
Despite their effectiveness, chemical fire extinguishing agents are not without disadvantages. In the early 20th century, carbon tetrachloride was extensively used as a dry cleaning solvent, a refrigerant and as a fire extinguishing agent. In time, it was found carbon tetrachloride could lead to severe health effects.
From the mid 1960s Halon 1301 was the industry standard for protecting high value assets from the threat of fire. Halon 1301 had many benefits as a fire suppression agent; it is fast acting, safe for assets and required minimal storage space. Halon 1301s major drawbacks are that it depletes atmospheric ozone and is potentially harmful to humans.
Since 1987, some 191 nations have signed The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer. The Protocol is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of a number of substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion. Among these were halogenated. Since the early 1990s manufacturers have successfully developed safe and effective Halon alternatives. These include DuPont FM-200, American Pacific’s Halotron and 3M Novec 1230 Fire Protection Fluid. Generally, the Halon replacement agents available today fall into two broad categories, in-kind (gaseous extinguishing agents) or not in-kind (alternative technologies). In-kind gaseous agents generally fall into two further categories, Halocarbons and Inert Gases. Not in-kind alternatives include such options as water mist or the use of early warning smoke detection systems hydrocarbons often used in fire suppression. As a result manufacturers have focused on alternatives to halogenated hydrocarbons, such as Halon 1301 and Halon 1211.
A number of countries have also taken steps to mandate the removal of installed Halon systems. Most notably these include Germany and Australia, the first two countries in the world to require this action. In both of these countries complete removal of installed Halon systems has been completed except for a very few essential use applications. The European Union is currently undergoing a similar mandated removal of installed Halon.