Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Prevent pollution from firefighting

Prevent pollution from firefighting

Fire is a serious risk to the environment. You should always try to reduce the risk of fire and the damage that fire and firefighting could cause.

To prevent pollution from firefighting you should:

  • discuss how to manage contaminated firefighting waste (firewater) and your firefighting response options with the fire and rescue service
  • prevent firewater from escaping - eg by temporarily blocking drains or using a containment barrier or firewater containment facilities on your site
  • ensure that your fire protection systems and fire extinguishing equipment comply with ozone-depleting substance and fluorinated gas regulations.

Ozone-depleting substances and F-gases

  • check if you need a major accident prevention policy for storing large quantities of dangerous substances

Control of major accident hazards (COMAH)

Deal with polluting foams safely

Most firefighting foams for Class B fires, including all film forming foams, contain fluorinated chemicals which are highly polluting if released into the environment. Class B fires include those fires involving flammable liquids like fuel.

Perfluorooctanesulphonate (PFOS), a fluorinated chemical additive that was used in some Class B aqueous film forming foam, is classed as a persistent organic pollutant (POP). The marketing and use of PFOS and PFOS-related substances is now banned in the European Union. You must not keep or use foams containing PFOS or PFOS-related substances. Contact your supplier to find safe disposal options.

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

You can use firefighting foams containing different fluorinated chemicals, including fluoroprotein and film forming fluoroprotein foams.

You must dispose of firefighting foams containing PFOS or PFOS-related substances and fluorinated chemicals correctly. It is good practice to return them to the manufacturer or contact your supplier to arrange disposal by high temperature incineration.

When you test fire extinguishers or carry out firefighting exercises you must not allow used foams to enter drains, surface waters or groundwater. You must contain them for disposal off site or you may be able to get approval from your water or sewerage company to discharge foam into the public foul sewer.

Control firewater

Firewater is polluting and you may need to deal with it as hazardous waste.

Hazardous/special waste

You must not discharge firewater into the environment. Ensure you have a plan and equipment in place to collect or contain it in the event of an emergency.

Store firewater correctly and ensure that it is treated and disposed of by a permitted or licensed waste management business. You may also be able to get permission from your water or sewerage company to discharge it into the foul sewer.

Trade effluent – managing liquid wastes

To prevent firewater from running into surface drains, polluting nearby waterways (rivers, streams and groundwater), foul drainage systems, and land, you should:

  • construct containment lagoons, tanks or systems on impermeable surfaces to hold firewater
  • isolate containment systems from surface drains, waterways, land or sewers..

Further information

UK Fire and Rescue: Guidance - Protection of the environment during firefighting

PPG 18 Managing fire water and major spillages (Adobe PDF – 132 KB)

PPG 28 Controlled burn (Adobe PDF – 240KB)

 GPP 21 Pollution incident response planning (Adobe PDF – 318KB)

HSE: Secondary containment for major spills and firewater

UK wide pollution hotline: 0800 80 70 60

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