Is There A Link Between Fire Retardants & Brain Tumours?

With an estimated 50% of people likely to contract some form of cancer in their lifetime, there has been an understandable rise in concern about the potentially carcinogenic effects of commonly used chemicals. Fire retardants, used in millions of sofas and mattresses across the UK, have recently been linked to (depending on the source) thyroid cancer, and pituitary brain tumours.

We would like to reassure readers that there are no known cancer risks associated with any of the firefighting products we use.

Furthermore, the link itself is far from proved, being linked to only a single US study of Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDE) carried out in January 2014. The study linked exposure to PBDEs in household dust to a heightened risk of thyroid cancer.

The study sampled blood levels of PBDE from 70 healthy subjects and 70 subjects with diagnosed thyroid cancer and did find raised levels of PBDE in some of the cancer sufferers. However, it is important to note that this was a small study and by no means representative of the general American population. Furthermore, no direct link between PBDEs and thyroid (or other) cancer has been proved. The results have not been replicated.

What are PBDEs?

Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers are a once common fire retardant used in domestic furniture. Concerns were raised about its toxicity independently of this study, leading to it being phased out in the USA from 2004 onwards. PBDEs were also banned in the European Union in August 2004, so if your sofa/mattress is less than 13 years old you should have no cause for concern.

Should you be worried?

We don’t believe you have any reason to worry. The story broke in the UK in an online article in The Sun in April 2017, which used the three year old US study as its source. The story linked thyroid cancer more generally to pollutants in household dust, something for which there is no firm clinical evidence. At the same time, some vets expressed concern about a link between PBDEs and a rise in pituitary tumours in pets, although no research has yet been published.

A European study carried out in 20121 found only very low levels of PBDE in the cord blood or breast milk of participants – far too low to pose a health risk.

At Fire Safe International we take toxicity very seriously and always follow the latest guidelines on the use of fire retardant chemicals in our products. We also keep up to date on evidence-based research on chemicals from around the world, to ensure that no substances with proved links to human ill-health are used in our products.

To find out more about our products and services, please get in touch by calling 01743 761 000.

How To Avoid Contamination And Injury Risks From Aqueous Fire Fighting Foam (AFFF)

Safety concerns have been raised recently following a number of news stories linking fire fighting foam to cases of water contamination and personal injury. Although the incidents in question took place in the USA, they have provoked worry in the UK, where fire fighting foam is widely used by fire fighters, military and civilian businesses as well as airports and shipping.

What is the background to this story, and what are the dangers associated with fire fighting foam? In this article, we give an overview of the controversy and propose a way for you to avoid such risks in your own fire prevention strategy.

Is Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) safe?

AFFF is used throughout the USA by public firefighting departments, as well as by private business, offices and factories. It has historically been seen as a safe and effective fire suppressant, but two recent incidents at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base have thrown this into question.
The first involved an injury to a firefighter during a training exercise on the base. Michael Strouse, an experienced firefighter, was injured when a fire fighting pipe burst and sprayed his face with high pressure fire suppressant. He immediately began to experience the symptoms of chemical burns, as well as difficulty breathing and sore eyes. The condition worsened over the following 24 hours, leading to Strouse being signed off work for three months.

At the same time, two drinking water wells on the base needed to be closed as result of suspected groundwater contamination from AFFF use. The two incidents have prompted a nationwide review of the use of AFFF fire suppressant by the US Defence Department, as there are concerns that the dangers are more widespread than currently recognised. Early reports from another Air Force Base in Colorado have suggested another link to groundwater contamination, indicating that there may be many more undiscovered cases.

Dangers to health and the environment.

The risk of personal injury after direct exposure to chemicals is something that all fire suppressant manufacturers must strive to reduce. However, environmental dangers from water contamination pose a much more widespread and insidious risk to human health. This is due to the potentially dangerous compounds contained in AFFF.

The most hazardous components are two perfluorinated compounds:

  • Perfluoro-octane sulfonic Acid (PFOS)
  • Perfloro-octanoic Acid (PFOA)

The AFFF tested in Colorado contained 20 times the recommended safe level of each of these compounds.

What are the health risks?

If leached into the water supply in sufficient quantities, perfluorinated compounds can cause a wide range of serious, long-term health risks. These include:

  • A number of cancers, including kidney and testicular cancer.
  • Increased cholesterol and obesity
  • Thyroid disruption
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Liver damage
  • Complications in pregnancy leading to low birth weights in new-born babies.

These are clearly serious issues, and although there are other sources of perfluorinated compounds than firefighting foam, if water contamination is a risk, then any environmental release must be managed or controlled – better still prevented!

Impact in the UK.

So far, there have been no investigations into the safety of firefighting foam in the UK, but many businesses are pre-empting a possible investigation by reviewing the fire suppressant foams they use. And that’s not to say that there won’t be additional regulations introduced in the UK as a result of this. Environmental and health and safety regulations become more stringent with each passing year. Prevention is also better than cure, so it is far more cost-effective to pre-empt the risk of contamination and personal injury, rather than deal with it after the event.

The Fire Safe alternative

We are happy to confirm that the fire suppressant foam we provide has none of the risks associated with its US equivalent. Our foam is manufactured by Solberg, one of the world’s premier producers of environmentally friendly fire fighting foam. Not only is Solberg foam highly effective in suppressing fires, but is also guaranteed to be free of all toxic organohalogen compounds. The risk of water contamination, or chemical injury to users, is, therefore minimal. What is more, our Solberg foam comes with an environmental warranty that guarantees it will meet any new environmental legislation. So you can have peace of mind that your foam will remain compliant, regardless of any new legislation that comes in.

If you currently use AFFF or are concerned about the safety of your fire suppressant, speak to one of our fire safety experts to discuss the alternatives. We have a wide range of affordable, safe and environmentally friendly firefighting products that protect against fire risk while ensuring the safety of your team. Call 01743 761 000 today to speak with one of our advisers.

Albatross Maintainers Strapped Vacuum Cleaners To Their Heads To Breath​e

A recent report from the South Coast Register has seen a horror story emerge. NAVAL aircraft maintainers at HMAS Albatross have been reported to have taped vacuum cleaners to their heads to breath while cleaning out their helicopter fuel tanks. A Former helicopter maintainer was quoted to saying he is a “walking timebomb” and it is only a matter of time until he is diagnosed with a serious illness. Read the full  story here: http://www.southcoastregister.com.au/story/4129113/hmas-albatross-horror-stories-emerge/

Breathing Apparatus Training Today

Today we welcome guests from “Rotometrics” who are here to attend a one day breathing apparatus training course.  They will be learning all about the use of the Scott “Propak Sigma” Self Contained Breathing Apparatus set.