Toxic Forest Fire Retardant Threat to Wildlife

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. 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.

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Steven R.
Steven R.4 years ago

It is awful to hear about this type of news. The respiratory affects of inhaling hazardous toxins including Carbon Monoxide & particulate matter which is caused by soot and smoke fire has immediate and long term affects. The firefighters and wildlife are in our thoughts.

Jeff B.
Jeff B.5 years ago

Sould use non-toxic Barricade Fire Gel

D J.
Di Jones5 years ago

Janice P. - it's not fair you have to live this way.
I think we should put fires out as fast as we can, even if it ruins some environment. If fires get too big they spray retardant and even more of it. Try to clean up before summer and the fires

charmaine c.
Charmaine C.5 years ago

Thanks for the information.

Heather B.
Past Member 5 years ago

Thanks for the article, Jake.

Mervi R.
Mervi R.5 years ago

Horrible stuff... thanks for the info.

Paula Richards
Paula Richards5 years ago

I often wondered what harm was being done while trying to fight fires.... poor wildlife, if the fire doesn't get them the chemicals will....

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L.5 years ago


Judith C.
Judith Craddock5 years ago

My son is a captain of a federal hotshot wildfire fighting crew, and I often worry about what those retardents may be doing to the brave people "in the trenches ."

Happy to see that some movement is being made toward protecting wildlife AND human life!!

Janice P.
Janice P.5 years ago

It seems as though very often, when we try to ameliorate one problem, we manage to cause another. Sometimes, I think our so-called "remedies" are not very well thought out before they are put to use.

I live in suburban St. Louis. For the last several years, high-altitude aerial spraying of something (which has been concluded to contain heavy metals, including arsenic and cadmium) has been occurring, allegedly to curtail ozone problems. The day will start out bright and sunny. Then, the spray planes come, criss-crossing the sky and leaving a thick blanket of hazy white where only 20 minutes earlier there had been clear, blue skies. This chemical blanket hangs in the upper atmosphere for hours. I have to wonder if ANYONE has done a study as to the effect these heavy metals are having on our health and the environment. I find these kinds of activities - not to mention the elements and chemicals utilized - rather disturbing. I also have to wonder if they might be at least one factor in colony collapse disorder, as well as ever-increasing occurrences of various kinds of cancers and other maladies.