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The truth about Halon.

Laws phasing out the production of Halon and taxing its use are making the tough job of a security manager even tougher. Halon, used as a fire protection agent, is itself under fire because it destroys ozone in the atmosphere. But companies that have relied on the chemical to protect computers, art, and other valuables need not immediately remove these systems. This is but one of the many misconceptions concerning Halon.

For security managers to understand what they can and cannot do today with Halon, it may help to review the existing laws. The Montreal Protocol, which was enacted in 1989 and has now been signed by fifty-two countries, calls for production restrictions and a phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and Halons.

This protocol originally froze Halon production at 1986 levels in 1992, called for a 50 percent reduction by 1995, and required a complete phaseout by 2000. The protocol was revised in November 1992 to call for a worldwide Halon production phaseout by January 1, 1994.

Halon works by interrupting the chemical chain reaction of the fire, not by removing oxygen as many people believe. Its effectiveness became apparent and its use widespread during the late 1970s and early 1980s when computers--and the need to protect them from fires--proliferated. Halon 1301, known as the clean agent, is able to protect these valuable operational and information resources without irreparably damaging them, as was the case when water or other agents were used.

The Halon 1301 fire protection system, the most widely used, works with devices that detect fires in the incipient stages and signal for the discharge of the Halon 1301 through piping to totally flood a protected area. The term total flooding means the systems are designed to introduce a specified concentration of the agent into the atmosphere in the area of the fire. The area must be closed and sealed for the Halon to suppress the fire.

The percentage of concentration introduced into the protected atmosphere should be within life safety limits determined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In most cases, local fire authorities require conducting discharge tests to ensure that life safety considerations have been met. Only in critical defense, military, and nuclear facilities will Halon systems introduce concentration levels that can be life threatening.

Contrary to the advice that so-called experts are giving to their clients, most companies are probably not faced with any immediate need to dismantle and replace existing 1301 systems. Halon 1211, normally used in hand-held fire extinguishers, is easier to replace with other agents, and it is better to replace these units, unless their application is essential.

Companies with essential-use applications and many military applications are exempt from removing the agent from their fire prevention program. Essential use means that Halon must be used because it is the most effective protection against a life-threatening hazard particular to a company or military application.

Some examples of essential-use applications include protection of military aircraft; data processing equipment that is essential to a life safety function, such as an air traffic controller terminal; control rooms in nuclear facilities and some oil pipe lanes; switchgear rooms in which a period of downtime could have catastrophic results; telephone switchgear rooms and telecommunications centers that are vital to national defense; hospital control rooms and areas used for critical medical research; and some predetermined Department of Defense contract work areas.

Halon alternatives are being developed by several manufacturers of Halon systems as well as producers of Halon and other agents. Some of these agents will require installing new systems, but others will use existing system hardware with either no alterations or minor alterations. Some of these agents might be introduced as early as mid-1993.

Among the manufacturers involved in this research are Ansul Fire Protection of Marinette, Wisconsin; Chemtron of University Park, Illinois; Fike Corporation of Blue Springs, Missouri; Potter Electric of St. Louis; 3M of St. Paul, Minnesota; Great Lakes Chemical of West Lafeyette, Indiana; DuPont of Wilmington, Delaware; and North American Fire Guardian Technology, Inc., of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Also, the NFPA has formed the Technical Committee on Alternative Protection Options to Halon to address total-flooding-Halon replacement agents and the needs of Halon users who are left with critical fire protection applications.

The Halon Alternatives Research Corporation (HARC) recently sponsored a study on current Halon recovery and recycling activities, which includes usage estimates, emission rates, and projections on the size of the supply of halon after production is halted, also known as the Halon bank. A copy of the report can be obtained by contacting Tim Cortina, HARC, 1025 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 712, Washington, DC 20036; or by calling 202/223-6166.

Security managers should contact their fire protection vendor to find out exactly what action is necessary for the proper use of halon and its alternatives in their organization. If the vendor is not a member of the National Association of Fire Equipment Distributors (NAFED), the security manager should contact the group directly at 312/644-6610. NFPA can also provide expert information and can be reached at 617/770-3000.

Both groups answer callers questions on current state regulations; inform callers on when alternatives will be available and if they can be used in their existing systems; provide lists of experts on the topic who can evaluate the caller's situation; and assist callers in determining if their applications qualify as essential-use applications.

Harry J. Azano, CPP, CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner), is a private security and life-safety consultant and a member of the University of New Haven's faculty in Connecticut. He is a member of ASIS.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:fire extinguisher
Author:Azano, Harry
Publication:Security Management
Date:May 1, 1993
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