The Air Up There: Jersey Bars, Fire Suppression and Doing the Right Thing!

john_picBy John Demeter

The next time you find yourself bellied-up to one of New Jersey’s 7000 bars (that’s a little more than one per square mile) think twice before ordering your Grey Goose martini or even that shot of Jack Daniels. You might not be getting what you paid for.

In January and February, investigators from the State’s Attorney General’s office covertly went to 63 establishments that were suspected of scamming liquor customers by substituting cheap booze for top brands while charging premium prices. The investigators ordered their drinks “neat” (no ice, no water, and no additives) and took a total of 150 samples. Of these, thirty (20%) proved not to be the brand ordered.

In total, twenty-nine bars and restaurants were accused of cheating customers. At one bar, a mixture that included rubbing alcohol and caramel coloring was sold as scotch (a felony in our book!).  In another, premium liquor bottles were diluted with water – and apparently not even clean water at that. In other words, contaminated.

So what does this have to do with fire protection? Not much, other than providing a handy metaphor for an emerging issue in the Clean Agent Fire Suppression business.

As we reported several months ago, a recent private sampling and testing of FM200 being returned for recycling every cylinder failed to meet the quality standard established in NFPA 2001. Halon 1301 was also included in this study with similar results. The study did not determine how the suppression agent was contaminated in the first place – was it factory filled or had the system been recharged? If it was recharged, was the recharge done by the factory or a distributor? We also don’t know the implications of this level of contamination on the suppression system. Would elevated moisture levels have a long term deleterious impact on the system? What happens when FM200 or Halon (or Novec 1230) is exposed to elevated levels of water?  Would valve stems, o-rings or other components break down or corrode? What happens to the interior of the cylinder?  What happens when these fire suppression agents are cross contaminated with other agents (1301 with 1211 or FM200) and the amount of agent is less than 100%?

What we do know is that moisture, particulates and, in some cases, other clean agents or refrigerants showed up in the sample rendering the system non-compliant with industry standards.  In some cases the moisture content was in excess of 270 ppm (10ppm is the maximum allowed) and did not comply with NFPA 2001. 100% of the samples failed! (New Jersey bars have a better record!)

We also know that there has never been a reported failure of a clean agent system failing to do its job and extinguish a fire. We know that clean agents play a critical role in high-value, special hazard fire protection in applications such as data centers, telecommunication, high-tech manufacturing, aviation and military.

Also, the use of recycled agents for recharge is growing. This trend will continue to grow given the fire protection industry’s enviable record of product stewardship.

So here is the question: under what set of circumstances should anyone recharge a clean agent system without an independent verification that the agent meets industry standards?

We’re hard pressed to think of any.

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One Response to The Air Up There: Jersey Bars, Fire Suppression and Doing the Right Thing!

  1. Mark L. Robin says:

    John

    You asked what happens when FM-200 is exposed to elevated levels of water.

    This has been examined by DuPont. Exposure of FM-200 to 2000 ppm water in a sealed tube for two weeks at 175 C (347 F) results in no chemical reaction. Ditto for FE-25.

    The experience you describe with recycled clean agents is a clear demonstration of why one of the key criteria for consideration in clean agent selection is chemical reactivity.

    Take chemical reactivity with water as an example: water is everywhere, and whereas it is easy to say “prevent any contact with water,” in practice, and as supported by the sampling study you described, it is challenging to pull off this feat. Complications due to inadvertent contamination with water can obviously be avoided by employing agents that are unreactive towards water, e.g., HFCs or inert gas agents.

    The HFC clean agents are extremely stable towards hydrolysis and that is one of the major advantages of the HFC clean fire extinguishing agents. No reactivity with water translates to a lack of formation of corrosive acids inside cylinders due to water “contamination”, ensuring long-term system reliability and performance. No reactivity with water also translates to a high level of safety in use and during handling – the HFC agents do not form toxic or corrosive acids due to hydrolysis (reaction with water) when inhaled.

    Mark L. Robin, PhD
    DuPont Chemicals & Fluoroproducts
    June 24, 2013

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