Why Are Halon Fire Extinguishers Illegal in the UK?

Written by rachelbennett
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Why Are Halon Fire Extinguishers Illegal in the UK?
Halon fire extinguishers are banned in the United Kingdom. (fire image by Fotocie from Fotolia.com)

In the United Kingdom, fire safety in homes, workplaces and public areas is seen as very important. Fire doors are used in most buildings to prevent fires from spreading, and fire extinguishers are used to reduce the spread of, or put out, fires. Extinguishers can be used by any member of the public who has received fire training. In the U.K., Halon fire extinguishers used to be quite common but since they have been banned since the 1990s.

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History

In the 1980s, halon fire extinguishers were widely manufactured in the United Kingdom. The company ICI was one of the largest U.K. manufacturers, producing a popular extinguisher known as BCF (an abbreviation of the chemical bromochluorodifluoromethane). In the U.K., halon fire extinguishers often were used to protect electrical equipments such as computers as, unlike dry powder extinguishers, the gas vaporised without leaving a residue.

Banning

In 1987, 150 countries signed the Montreal Protocol, which restricted the use of ozone-depleting chemicals. Halon 1211, used in fixed fire extinguishers, and Halon 1301, used in portable extinguishers, were found to be the largest depleters of the ozone layer in common use, making them contributors towards global warming. Consequently, Halon 1211 was banned in UK in 1993 and Halon 1301 was made illegal in 1999. According to U.K. law, all portable fire extinguishers and halon-based protection had to be decommissioned by December 31, 2003. However, in the U.K., halon fire extinguishers are still permitted in a few select areas, including in the Channel Tunnel, on aircraft and in naval vessels. This is because safety is crucial in these areas and alternative extinguishers are heavier and less effective.

Removing Halon Fire Extinguishers

Most halon fire extinguishers are contained in green cylinders. If any remain in unauthorised areas, such as a home or office, they are illegal and must be removed. Check the labels of all fire extinguishers for the words "Halon" or "BCF." Some specialist halon extinguishers are gold or yellow in colour.

Disposing of Halon Fire Extinguishers

Contact local authorities for information on disposal. Do not throw halon fire extinguishers in the normal garbage, as this is illegal. Do not release the gas into the atmosphere, as this harms the ozone layer.

Approved Fire Extinguishers

All buildings in the United Kingdom must have fire safety precautions and so it is important to replace halogen fire extinguishers. In the U.K., carbon dioxide and clean-agent extinguishers are the most popular. These are not as effective as halon extinguishers but are more environmentally friendly.

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