HALON AND THE FIRE PROTECTION INDUSTRY
1 How is Halon Used?
Halon is widely employed in areas such as computer rooms, data storage areas, libraries and museums, where the use of water or solid extinguishing agents could cause secondary damage exceeding that caused by the fire itself. The non-conductive nature of Halon enables it to be used for the protection of electrical and electronic equipment, and its low toxicity allows its use in areas where the egress of personnel may be undesirable or impossible - important in closed areas such as aircraft, boats and armored fighting vehicles. Halon is also used extensively in oil production and electric power generation.
The EPA recognizes that Halon is a very effective extinguishing agent, and the agency continues to allow the use of Halon despite the gas's ozone depleting potential. All Halon now available is recycled.
2 How Long Has Halon Been Used For Fire Protection?
Halon has been used for fire and explosion protection throughout the twentieth and into the twenty first century. Carbon tetrachloride (Halon 104) was used prior to 1900, even though its combustion by-products were lethal. Due to a number of deaths, a search for something safer began. Several other Halons were tried, but it was not until 1947 that research by the Purdue Research Foundation and the U.S. Army resulted in the discovery of two effective low toxicity Halons: 1211 and 1301. When used properly, these Halons have an excellent fire fighting record with little, if any, risk.
3 How is Halon Use Restricted?
The Montreal Protocol
of 1987 identified Halon as one of many compounds requiring limitations of use and production and an amendment to the original Protocol resulted in the halting of Halon production on January 1, 1994. Careful use and conservation of Halon is, therefore, important so that existing supplies will be sufficient to meet all future needs.
In the United States, there are currently no regulations mandating the decommissioning of Halon systems or portable fire extinguishers. In fact, the FAA continues to recommend Halon fire extinguishers for use on aircraft due to its effectiveness to weight ratio and low toxicity.
However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) strongly encourages the use of non-ozone depleting alternatives, and in 1990, the US EPA established its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) to evaluate new chemicals and technologies for the replacement of ozone depleting substances. On March 5, 1998, the US EPA
issued a final rule governing the release of Halon into the atmosphere during maintenance, repair, and disposal of Halon containing equipment. Disposal of Halon containing equipment must be conducted by a Halon manufacturer, a Halon system manufacturer, a fire equipment distributor, or a Halon recycler. And, the company receiving the Halon must operate in accordance with all requirements of NFPA 12A. If the owner is disposing of the Halon permanently, it must be disposed of by sending it for recycling to a recycler operating in accordance with NFPA 12A. In order to recycle Halon, Underwriters Laboratories Inc. approved equipment must be employed.
4 How Long will Halon be Available for Use?
Although Halon is no longer manufactured, according to an industry white paper by Wickman Associates dated March 16, 2002, there will be a bank of approximately 3,748 tons in 2030. At H3R Clean Agents, we believe that the eventual demise of Halon will result not from insufficient supply, but from the development of an equally effective agent, that does not damage the ozone layer and is cost effective. Although progress is being made on Halon alternatives, none yet meets these criteria.