Fire fighting foam is one of the most important products in firefighting operations. It is used to fight class A (solids) and class B (liquids) fires.
However, the release of foam compound always has a negative impact on the environment, since all foam types are classified as environmentally hazardous. This means that uncontrolled release into the environment should be avoided. Something that is difficult to achieve during an operation can, however, be observed during exercise and in the disposal of “old” foam compound.
Professional disposal of fire fighting foam
For disposal in Austria and Germany, the Waste Management Act applies, which states that the owner of a substance is also responsible for its proper disposal. The type of disposal is then regulated in the waste catalog according to a substance code. The first point of reference for this is the material safety datasheet, where Section 13 gives a recommendation as to the right code. If there is any doubt, an authorized waste management company must always be consulted, because there are significant differences between the various types.
While fluorine-free foam compounds (MBS, Class A, 3F) are generally decomposed in sewage treatment plants and can therefore be released into the sewer system after consultation with the wastewater treatment plant operator, foams containing fluorine (AFFF) are not or only partially degradable and must be processed at high temperature.
And this is reflected in the disposal costs. The disposal of AFFF foam can cost € 200-400 per m³. There is also the additional problem that, when pumped into the tanker of the disposal company, the foam-water mixture once again begins to generate foam, and the costs further rise because the disposal company is unable to completely fill its truck.
The right foam compound for the right application
Before investing in fluorine-containing AFFF foam compounds, it should be clarified whether these are absolutely necessary. Liquid fires up to a certain size can be effectively extinguished with a fluorine-free foam compound, such as multi-grade foam or Class A foam. If larger amounts of alcohol-containing substances are present at the site of operation, good fluorine-free alcohol-resistant foam compounds are now available as an alternative. I refer here to my blog post “The blessing and curse of ‘fluorine’ in fire fighting foam.”
Foam compounds – always during drills and in operations as much as possible – should be captured and disposed of correctly. For fluorine-free foam compounds, one can clarify with the sewage treatment plant whether and in what quantities they can be released into the sewage network.
Always dispose of foam concentrate through a certified disposal company. Don’t just “wing it”!
Note: The legal basis mentioned as well as the approximate disposal costs are in reference to Austria and Germany. For foam disposal in other regions, please observe the respective country-specific regulations.