Regulation of PFAS firefighting foams
What are the key changes and when do they come into effect?
The ban on the use of any PFAS firefighting foam (both long-chain and short- chain) for the purposes of training or demonstrations commenced on 1 April 2021. Penalties for individuals and businesses apply.
Most of the Regulation comes into effect on 26 September 2022 to allow individuals and businesses the time needed to phase out the use and supply of relevant PFAS firefighting foams, and to make the necessary adjustments to current practices.
Further details can be found at the Regulation of PFAS firefighting foams page.
How will differing PFAS firefighting foams be regulated?
To help ensure targeted restrictions on specific types of PFAS firefighting foam products, PFAS firefighting foams are defined in the Regulation as comprising:
- prescribed long-chain PFAS firefighting foam, or
- all other firefighting foam containing PFAS.
Prescribed long chain PFAS firefighting foam cannot be discharged unless by ‘relevant authorities’, and other EPA-exempted entities to prevent or fight petrol, kerosene, oil, tar, paint or polar solvent fires (defined in the Regulation as ‘catastrophic fires’), or by or any person to prevent, extinguish, or attempt to extinguish a fire on a watercraft. These entities require continuing access to prescribed long chain PFAS firefighting foam to address specialised firefighting needs involving combustible solvents.
No PFAS firefighting foam containing any form of PFAS can be discharged using a portable extinguisher from 26 September 2022. Most fires where a portable fire extinguisher would be used, can be effectively extinguished using fluorine free firefighting foam.
I have a fire extinguisher at my home or business, what does this mean for me?
Individuals or business owners with portable fire extinguishers containing PFAS foam must comply with the restrictions on the use of these extinguishers when they take effect on 26 September 2022.
The Regulation only allows ‘relevant authorities’, or exempt persons, to use a portable fire extinguisher containing PFAS firefighting foam to prevent or fight a ‘catastrophic fire’, or any person to prevent or a fire on a watercraft.
Extinguishers containing PFAS firefighting foams will no longer be available for purchase other than for these limited reasons.
What organisations are a ‘relevant authority’?
The Regulation limits the list of ‘relevant authorities’ to Transport for NSW, fire brigades, rural fire brigades, community fire brigades and the Port Authority of NSW. The operational needs of these organisations require continuing access to PFAS firefighting foams to respond to high intensity ‘catastrophic fires’ involving combustible accelerants.
What is a ‘watercraft’?
The Regulation adopts the same definition as ‘vessel’ in the Marine Safety Act 1998, which includes “water craft of any description used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water” (with certain exclusions as listed in the Marine Safety Regulation 2016).
Through consultation on the draft Regulation, stakeholders highlighted the heightened dangers created by fires on watercraft. Fires on watercraft have potential to pose greater immediate risk to life and safety. This is because crew and passengers are in close proximity to a range of stored combustible substances onboard, and generally have fewer safe evacuation options compared to land-based fires. Therefore, the Regulation affords watercraft fires the same status as ‘catastrophic fires’ and allows the continued use of PFAS firefighting foams.
Can suppliers continue to sell PFAS firefighting foam?
From 26 September 2022, the Regulation restricts the sale of portable fire extinguishers containing PFAS unless sold to a ‘relevant authority’, person who is the owner or master of a watercraft, or a person who has an exemption to use a portable fire extinguisher containing PFAS firefighting foam.
This change will assist residents and business owners to comply with the requirement to not use portable fire extinguishers containing PFAS firefighting foam. This is because in most cases they will not be able to purchase a portable fire extinguisher containing PFAS firefighting foam, unless exempted. If the individual or business owner is sold a portable fire extinguisher containing PFAS, they must still comply with the restrictions on the use of portable fire extinguishers containing PFAS firefighting foam.
Who can apply for permission to continue using PFAS firefighting foams?
NSW EPA expects individual residents and businesses to take the steps necessary to comply with the Regulation as a first course of action. The intent of delaying the commencement of the Regulation until 26 September 2022 is to allow the time needed for effected individuals and businesses to put in place alternative arrangements to the use of PFAS firefighting foams.
Individuals or business owners can apply for an exemption from these restrictions if required. The EPA is developing an exemption application process and will update stakeholders shortly. In the interim, individuals and businesses wishing to enquire further into potential exemptions can contact the EPA via our dedicated mailbox: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Exemptions will only be granted in limited circumstances where residents and businesses demonstrate, after having explored alternatives, the use of PFAS firefighting foam is necessary to prevent or fight catastrophic fires, and alternatives are first considered.
Exemptions will also be time-bound to encourage a prompt movement towards compliance with the Regulation.
All users of PFAS firefighting foam, including exempt entities, will remain liable to penalties and prosecution if runoff from PFAS discharge is unsatisfactorily contained in line with requirements of the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997. The Regulation makes the EPA the appropriate regulatory authority responsible for enforcement and compliance relating to the discharge of PFAS firefighting foam.
How do I dispose of PFAS firefighting foam extinguishers?
Individuals and businesses should approach their portable extinguisher and firefighting foam suppliers to discuss options for changing out PFAS firefighting foam extinguishers. Most suppliers of firefighting foams provide services to periodically check and replace portable extinguishers or the concentrated firefighting liquid they contain (referred to in the Regulation as “precursor”).
It is not an offence to possess portable fire extinguishers containing PFAS. Individuals and businesses can continue to have them stored on their premises until arrangements for safe disposal can be made.
Further background to the NSW Regulation
Why focus on PFAS firefighting foam?
While PFAS have been used in a broad range of other products and applications, volumes are typically smaller compared to their use in firefighting foams. Additionally, concentrations of PFAS have been detected at sites where PFAS firefighting foams have been used. Based on investigations of PFAS contaminated sites led by the EPA, PFAS firefighting foam has been identified as a primary cause of PFAS contamination in the environment. Effective management of PFAS contamination from firefighting foam will therefore provide the greatest benefits in the first instance.
In what special circumstances can the use of PFAS firefighting foams continue?
The NSW Government is allowing the continued use of PFAS firefighting foam in catastrophic circumstances or when there is an ongoing need, such as where:
- PFAS firefighting foam is the only appropriate firefighting foam available
- PFAS firefighting foam is required to be used by law or insurance policies
- businesses need to undertake changes to infrastructure or systems to comply and time is needed to transition to acceptable alternatives.
The Regulation aligns with the National PFAS Position Statement and is the first step to achieving the agreed objectives in the Statement.
Why are the restrictions focused on long-chain PFAS firefighting foam?
There is general concern on the potential health and environmental impacts from the use of PFAS firefighting foams. The National PFAS Position Statement sets out nationally agreed commitments to restrict the use of short‑chain as well as long‑chain PFAS foam.
The EPA is mindful to ensure any restrictions on the use of PFAS firefighting foam do not cause unreasonable financial and other regulatory burdens to industry suppliers and users of such foams. Consultation by the EPA in 2018 suggested restricting the use of long-chain PFAS firefighting foam could be feasible and manageable for industry. The Regulation is therefore focused mainly on restricting the use of long-chain PFAS firefighting foam.
As part of this consultation, the EPA also sought feedback on whether it is feasible and reasonable to restrict the use of short-chain PFAS firefighting foam in portable fire extinguishers. The EPA understands from the consultation process that most fires where a portable fire extinguisher would be used, can be effectively extinguished using fluorine free firefighting foam.
What are other jurisdictions doing?
Queensland and South Australia already have requirements in place to phase out the use of firefighting foams containing PFAS. As part of the coordination of government responses to the management of PFAS, the Commonwealth has also published the National PFAS Position Statement that sets out nationally agreed objectives to reduce or phase out products and articles containing PFAS. The Regulation aligns with the National PFAS Position Statement and is the first step to achieving its objectives.
- PFAS Regulation mailbox: email@example.com
- Environment Line: 131 555 or (02) 9995 5555
General information on PFAS, health impacts and current action in NSW and Australia: