The Air Up There

By John Demeter

Once again, the Special Hazard Fire Suppression Industry is faced with a challenge. Some call it an existential threat. Others call it a speed bump. Whatever the outcome, 3M’s decision to end production of its fire suppression fluid, Novec 1230, will occupy discussions, trade association activities and business strategies for the balance of 2023 and beyond.

In 1994, Halon 1301, the world’s first reasonably safe and commercially successful “clean agent” was banned from production because it was determined to be an ozone depleting substance. In the early 2000’s we learned that Halon’s successor, FM200, was a global warming chemical and the industry would spend over a decade not knowing if FM200 (HFC227) would too be banned or phased down. Either one would be a blow to the industry.

In 2021, because of the AIM Act, the production of FM200 was capped and regulations put in place for an 85% phasedown.

Now, in 2023, the industry is faced with the possibility that Novec 1230, the fire suppression agent developed and marketed as the environmentally friendly (non-Ozone depleting and Non-Global Warming) replacement for FM200, could potentially fall into the category of “Forever Chemicals” or PFAS and possibly be banned or highly regulated.

There is ample scientific evidence that Novec 1230 (FK-5-1-12) while considered a PFAS, falls outside of the category of products that pose a threat to humans or the environment. Studies have shown FK-5-1-121 to be non-pervasive, non-bio accumulative and non-toxic. Nevertheless, it is on the hit-list of the European regulators. The U.S. may not be far behind.

As of this writing, no one knows where this issue is headed. (Though, it does make the entrepreneurial class among us consider investing in the manufacture of aluminum buckets, sand, and sodium bicarbonate.) The European Union is scheduled to release its report on PFAS restrictions on February 7th.

This will give us an indication of how difficult of a battle the industry faces. One thing is certain. The Novec brand has been deeply tarnished. Unknown is the future of Fluoroketones in the Special Hazard Fire Suppression Industry.

(Note: The 3M salespeople we have known for years have been nothing but professional, candid and honest in working through this issue . As for the 3M C-Suite Suits? That’s for another column.)

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