According to fire officials, one of the most effective tools for preventing and staunching the spread of fires is the use of flame retardants. It is a substance composed of various chemicals including ammonia that is effective in slowing or preventing the spread of brush fires. There are many brands available, the most widely used being Phos-Chek.

Phos-Chek is a reddish-pink foam that is used by most US fire agencies. Before and during fire season, it is common to see fire aircraft dropping vast amounts of the distinct foam on forests and high-vegetation areas prone to fires.

Fire officials believe that fire retardants such as this have been instrumental in curbing the spread of wildfires. However, environmentalists disagree, arguing that Phos-Chek and similar retardants are a danger to the environment and wildlife, and can contaminate waterways, causing extreme levels of toxicity to aquatic life.

A recent lawsuit filed by the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE) against the United States Forest Service to curb the use of such retardants and instead use water sources.

In the lawsuit, the FSEEE claims that the effectiveness of Phos-Chek and similar retardants does not justify its use and seeks to enforce the Clean Water Act which will force the Forest Service to get a permit each time they use the retardant.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States and regulating quality standards for surface waters.”

However, the Forest Service defends the efficacy of fire retardants but agrees that the ammonia present in fire retardant products can cause toxicity to aquatic life if applied directly. They address this concern by issuing guidelines for the use of retardants by ensuring no retardants are dumped within 300 – feet of a body of water. Conservationists continue to monitor this debate as fire season goes into full swing.

The Judge sided with the FSEEE and agreed that the U.S. Forest Service is violating the Clean Water Act in its use of fire retardants but allowed the agency to continue using it while obtaining a permit.

The CaseyGerry fire lawyers understand the impact fires can have on individuals who have lost property, livelihood and loved ones in California fires. If you have been impacted by a fire, please contact our attorneys at (619) 304-2109 to learn about your legal rights.

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