This afternoon the Department and the Union met for a briefing about the current bans on the ‘3M AFFF’ foam concentrate and how best to deal with it without exposing FBEU members to unacceptable risk. During that meeting the Union was able to establish that the Department has been slowly but surely phasing out the use of ‘3M AFFF’ across NSW since mid 2000 due to the presence of a class of chemicals known as perfluoro octanyl sulfonates that are damaging to the environment and to people.
The Department has now informed the Union that it doesn’t know the precise quantity of ‘3M AFFF’ foam concentrate in stations throughout the state. This foam may be sitting in drums in storerooms, on the backs of foam trailers or indeed in the purpose built foam concentrate tanks of the 60 Varley series pumpers in built up areas and in up to 110 type two pumpers throughout the state.
The Union was also informed that the Department has been progressively replacing ‘3M AFFF’ with a newer safer product know as “Tridol” Aqueous Film Forming Foam. The Department has also told the Union that approximately 1300 twenty litre drums of Tridol have been purchased since the beginning of 2006. The Department has advised that in all likelihood foam tanks on appliances are either carrying minimal quantities of the 3M product or none at all.
Nonetheless while the Union’s ban on the Use of ‘3M AFFF’ remains in place, the Department has made the following commitments in respect of establishing where the foam is and how best to deal with it:
•The Department will immediately carry out a full audit of foam stock throughout the state with a view to establishing where ‘3M AFFF’ is located.
•All ATC (polymer) foam concentrate produced by the 3M company and in use throughout the state will be immediately removed from service and not reintroduced.
•All ‘3M AFFF’ to be removed from stations and placed on regional foam trailers for use in major emergencies and is to remain in place for no longer than six months before it’s complete removal from service.
•The Department will immediately issue an updated Safety Bulletin to all stations in regard to the operational use of foam that will include PPE requirements when using foam and safe working practices when using foam concentrate.
The Union remains concerned that consistent exposure to ‘3M AFFF’ foam concentrate without adequate PPE may be detrimental to the health and safety of firefighters throughout the state. On that basis the Union directs all members that if you have a genuine concern for your safety in using foam concentrate that you believe to be ‘3M AFFF’ immediately contact your operational commander to have it replaced. The Union has been informed that the Department will be removing the foam from all operational fire stations but that it will need to maintain bulk supplies on the foam trailers until it is able to source sufficient quantities of the newer safer foam concentrate. In this respect make sure you have full PPE and only use the foam as a last resort.
While the particular issues related to foam are manageable the long and the short of this is that as soon as the foam was found to be detrimental to human health it should have been removed from service and replaced with a safer alternative – across the board.