The Air Up There – UL News

By: John Demeter

Young Jenny Curran: “Are you stupid or something?”
Forrest Gump: “Momma always says, ‘Stupid is as Stupid does!’”

I’m sure you remember the scene. A young Forrest Gump climbs aboard the school bus for the first time, walks down the aisle looking for a seat and is rejected by several boys sitting alone. “Can’t sit here!” was the common reaction to the different looking kid wearing leg braces. Finally, nearing the back of the bus, Jenny Curran, who Forrest would later describe as “the most beautiful girl in the world”, offers Forrest the empty seat next to her. After brief introductions and a few awkward moments, Jenny says to Forrest, “Are you stupid or something?”

Funny, but that was exactly our thought when we read the memo from Underwriters Laboratories announcing that they were withdrawing the 5th Edition of the Standard for Halogenated Fire Extinguishers (UL 1093) and all the listings under that Standard on September 29, 2009. This means that in a little less than a year, U.L. will no longer recognize a hand portable halon 1211 fire extinguisher. This, of course, has serious ramifications because most authorizing bodies (or AHJ’s – Authorities Having Jurisdiction) require a UL Listing mark on safety items that they specify. This would include FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) who establish rules for airline safety. The commercial aviation industry uses some – but not a lot – of halon 1211 in portable fire extinguishers on their planes.

The UL memo states, “The lack of halogen agent extinguishing availability as a result of the Montreal Protocol was expected to eliminate the production of halogen agent fire extinguishers by 2007.” One thing that’s obvious is that the decision makers at UL are not regular readers of the Halon Herald or this column. If they were they would know that there is no real lack of halon 1211 in the world. In fact, according to the latest HTOC studies the “world bank” of halon 1211 totals 90,000 metric tons! (Yes, that’s right – 90,000 metric tons!!). In terms of total consumption of halon 1211 by the commercial aviation industry that would be enough halon for 6,600 years!! So much for lack of availability!

No, it’s not a matter of halon’s availability. There is plenty of halon 1211 around. If you read further down in UL memo we learn that the FAA along with the EPA have been “encouraging” the aviation industry to move away from extinguishers using halons. Not because of airline safety, which the FAA is supposed to promote. Not because of environmental safety, which the EPA supposed to promote. Not because of product safety, which U.L. is supposed to promote. It’s because – well, we’re not quite sure. So, we thought, before we reached a conclusion, we thought we’d pose a few questions to U.L.

1. Did UL ask anyone in the commercial aviation industry – the people who build and fly the planes and have the most to risk -what they thought of this idea?

2. Did UL ask anyone in the fire protection industry or the halon recycling industry – the people who provide the halon and build the fire extinguishers that protect the planes – what they thought of this idea?

3. Since no one else has been able to tell us, does U.L have any idea what we should do with 90,000 metric tons of halon 1211 around the world (and probably enough in the U.S. to support commercial aviation for 10 years.) sitting in rusting portable fire extinguishers waiting to discharge into the atmosphere? And if the answer is to destroy it, will UL be willing to fund all or part of the 500 million dollars that it will cost?

4. U.L.’s motto used to be “Testing for Public Safety”. Is there a safety issue involved in halon 1211 fire extinguishers? If so, shouldn’t the public know?

5. There are two FAA approved replacement gases for halon 1211. One is a Class II ozone depleting substances scheduled for elimination under the Montreal Protocol in 2015 The other is a serious global warmer. Will UL be pulling these products anytime soon?

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