Donald Molloy, a federal judge in Missoula, Montana has ordered the U.S. Forest service to reexamine routine use of fire retardant on wildfires. At issue is the dropping of a material toxic to wild fish and plants from airplanes.
Biologists have found when the fire retardant is dropped, some of it lands in creeks, which is harming endangered fish. It also lands on endangered plants and can harm them as well. The wildlife potentially damaged by fire retardants is protected by the Endangered Species Act, but the judge said the law was violated because no limits were set on the amount of fire retardants that could be used in natural habitats. For example, it was reported that in 2008 the U.S. Forest dropped 20 million gallons of fire retardant during their efforts to combat forest fires. A Forest Service document describes typical fire retardant ingredients, “Although retardant is approximately 85 percent water, the ammonia compounds constitute about 60 to 90 percent of the remainder of the product. The other ingredients include thickeners, such as guar gum and attupulgite clay, dyes, and corrosion inhibitors.”
On page 13, the document also states that under certain conditions fire retardant can be toxic to aquatic wildlife and can alter water quality. (The same paper suggests taking a precaution to drop fire retardant only when 300 feet away from water, in order to protect aquatic species.) It also states, as an example of how much land was burned in a year, that in 2006 fires burned nearly 10,000,000 acres of land in the United States.
Redding.com reported recently about damage to fish from a fire retardant dropping last year, “But hundreds of endangered steelhead were killed when retardant was dropped in a creek while firefighters were battling the Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara County this summer.”
The Santa Barbara Independent reported of the same fire last year, that the flame retardant altered the fish’s habitat considerably, “…a UCSB ecology professor recorded ammonia level in the water 100 times higher than normal.”
Some alternatives to the current use of fire retardants, is to substitute all water for droppings near aquatic habitats, and rare plants, or simply not dump anything from planes in certain areas. In addition, a new fire retardant formula is being tested in Minnesota, which is said to be 99.5 percent water, 0.25 percent corn starch, and some kind of “secret sauce.” It is also reported to be both non-toxic, and biodegradable.