Controversy surrounds fire retardant chemicals

You have probably seen them, especially if you live in bushfire-prone areas. Huge air tankers or helicopters fly by to dump fire retardants. 

Firefighters credit them as critical in their efforts to fight wildfires

But now, a lawsuit filed by the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) is targeting its use by the Forest Service, saying the chemicals are just too toxic and environmentally damaging. 

Andy Stahl, FSEEE’s executive director, adds that water drops are just as effective, and much less damaging, particularly since "the retardant drops are not so effective if we are losing so many homes to brushfires". 

What FSEEE is seeking is to force the Forest Service to follow the Clean Water Act, and obtain a permit every time they use retardant at a fire. The process for the permit would require studies, which would take longer than the fire itself.

So in essence, it would prohibit the Forest Service from using them. 

The Forest Service has issued guidelines that drops not get closer than 300 feet from waterways, which local agencies – like LA County Fire – say they follow.  Phos-Check is by far the dominant brand and is used extensively by fire agencies, but particularly by the Forest Service, which says it is unlikely to pose a serious threat to aquatic life. But, the free ammonia present in all fire retardant solutions can be toxic to aquatic life when directly applied, says Stahl. 

It's lawsuit conservation groups and fire agencies all over are keeping a close eye on, especially as we enter summer.