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Firefighting with foam

Hazard Knowledge

Firefighting foam causes water pollution. This should not stop fire and rescue services from using foam where there is an operational need. In most cases, preventive action can be taken to limit any impact. Using foam can also have environmental benefits such as reducing water use and extinguishing a fire more quickly.

The main environmental effects of firefighting foams are:

  • They can lead to the de-oxygenation of water
  • They can be toxic to aquatic life and present risks to drinking water supplies
  • Some compounds in them do not break down in the environment and can accumulate in plants and animals

The type of foam used should be appropriate for the task in hand and the minimum quantity used. Using foam is a trigger for notifying environment agencies of an incident. This includes the use of compressed air foam systems. Extra care should be taken when using firefighting foam close to water sources or sensitive environmental areas. Some sites have oil separators in drainage systems. Firefighting foam run-off should not be allowed to enter an oil separator because it will pass through it unaffected and may also flush oil into the drainage system. See Section 3.9, Environmental Protection Handbook.