By Robert Thilthorpe, FIA Technical Manager

This article looks at the changes to EU chemical regulations and what they mean, or could mean, to the UK firefighting market. The first is the EU Chemical Labelling and Packaging Regulations which are now in force and then we take a look at proposed change to the REACH regulations.  

Chemical Labelling and Packaging Regulations

You may not be aware of Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 (CLP Regulation or CLP) but it is the EU legislation on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures. It entered into force on 20 January 2009 in the European Union and it is directly applicable to suppliers who manufacture, import, use or distribute chemical substances and mixtures. The Regulation replaced the provisions of the Dangerous Substances Directive 67/548/EEC (DSD) and the Dangerous Preparations Directive 1999/45/EC (DPD) in a stepwise approach; the final step occurred this year when the latter directives were repealed on 1 June 2015.

The aim of the legislation is to:

  • Identify the hazards of the chemical using a standardised set of classification criteria

  • Package the chemical safely

  • Communicate information about hazards to their customers through labels and other documents such as safety data sheets

The onus on labelling is on the supplier who places the product (chemical) on the market and therefore can cascade down the supply chain.  

You might think what does it have to do with fire protection? Well, in very simple terms what we use to fight fires are mixtures of chemicals - even water is a chemical (H2O) - and we package them, a fire extinguisher, for example, is effectively a package for chemicals.

So taking that into account it affects:

  • Producers of chemicals, so manufacturers of firefighting foams and other extinguishing agents

  • Importers of chemicals, so importers of firefighting equipment

  • Users of chemicals, for example:

  • A formulator of mixtures, i.e. you use substances and mixtures supplied to you for the formulation of other products that you place on the market, e.g. fire extinguisher manufacturers using foam or powder media

  • A re-filler who is transferring substances or mixtures supplied to him from one container of packaging into another so possibly fire extinguisher servicing companies or distributers

You will have already started to see the new labelling on your washing powder and household cleaning products; it’s very similar to labels you are used to now but the Regulation has made the labels uniform across Europe.

As the aim is to identify the hazards, the first step in the process is to determine if the chemical is hazardous in the concentrations in the packaging. If it is, then the package should be labelled. CLP Article 31(1) requires labels to be firmly affixed to one or more surfaces of the packaging immediately containing the substance or mixture and that they shall be readable horizontally when the package is set down normally. However if the packaging contains the information then a separate label is not required (article 31(5).

So what should the label look like? The CLP regulations give very clear guidance on this in Article 17, which says the label should contain the following:

  • Name, address and telephone number of the supplier(s)

  • The nominal quantity of the substance or mixture in the package where this is being made available to the general public, unless this quantity is specified elsewhere on the package

  • Product identifiers

  • Hazard pictograms, where applicable

  • The relevant signal word, where applicable

  • Hazard statements, where applicable

  • Precautionary statements, where applicable

  • A section for supplemental information, where applicable

Potentially a lot of information! The regulations also prescribe the size of the label based on the size of the packaging as one of the requirement is that it is easy to read. Also depending of where the packaged chemical is placed on the market then the label has to be in the language of all applicable member states.

The hazards are split between:

Physical hazards





Gas under pressure

Health hazards

Acute Toxicity

Acute toxicity, eye irritant, skin irritant

Respiratory, carcinogenicity,

Environmental hazards

Toxic to the Aquatic environment

The labels should have a minimum size depending on the capacity of the package, for example if the package is less than 3 litres the label should be at least 52 x 74 mm and between 3 and 500 litres then the label should be 74 x 105 mm.
So what does this mean for producers and supplies of firefighting equipment?

The composition of the firefighting agent should be checked based on the safety data sheet and the appropriate labelling applied depending of the hazards identified. If you are the manufacturer of the original agent then this is simple and part of the REACH requirements.

If you are not the manufacturer of, for example, the foam concentrate but, in order to achieve a specific fire rating in a fire extinguisher, mix two different concentrates in the extinguisher then you need to update the SDS and consider if a CLP label is required.

Manufacturers and suppliers of foams, powder and gaseous agents have been ahead of the curve and have been amending their labelling to comply with the CLP requirements and are appearing on their products.

For the portable fire extinguisher industry it is slightly newer information and in order to assist members and others the FIA has drafted guidance (FIA Fact File 74) on the CLP regulations and its impact on this industry segment. The guidance will be agreed with the UK regulators, HSE and will be published shortly.

Not to put the contents of the guidance in this article, but depending on what is in the extinguisher (i.e. based on the Safety Datasheets provided) the situation is not as bad as it first looked. The guidance looks at fire extinguishers based on media and the refills used by the service companies and concludes whether a CLP label is required and gives example labels.

Restriction of PFOA

The other area that is generating a lot of interest in the firefighting sector is an ECHA consultation on possible restriction of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is related to PFOS which is a chemical that is banned within Europe and used to be in firefighting foam. PFOS has not been a constituent of fire firefighting foams for many years.

PFOA in small amounts can be present in fluorinated firefighting foams (AFFF). There are a number of voluntary agreements in place to change the chemistry of firefighting foams to reduce the environmental impact but at the same time to maintain the high level of firefighting capability of these important chemicals.

Along with our European colleagues in Eurofeu, the FIA were made aware of a consultation by the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) to amend the REACH regulations by the addition of a restriction on PFOA. Amongst other things this restriction would put a limit on PFOA in products and mixtures of 2parts per billion (ppb). On the face of it, this doesn’t seem that; bad lots of chemicals are limited where they are considered hazardous. However, when you look at this closely the impact on the firefighting market would be considerable and it’s not just that market that would be affected. Why is this?

Any equipment containing or having contained fluorinated chemical at a level greater than 2ppb would effectively be banned. This would include the equipment used to make foam, firefighting foam monitors used to protect airfield and petrochemical facilities and foam portable fire extinguishers.

So can we not just change the contents with low PFOA alternatives? Unfortunately not, 2ppb is at the limit of detection for this substance so it would be very difficult to detect, secondly, with current methods it is just about impossible to clean the equipment and guarantee that it will have less than 2ppb PFOA present.

If this change goes ahead, the most drastic vision is that every foam fire extinguisher in Europe would have to be replaced along with any other bit of kit that contains foam. This does not just affect the firefighting industry but every other industry that uses fluorinated chemicals.

The FIA, Eurofeu and Eurofeu’s member associations have responded to the ECHA consultation along with other interested parties pointing out the potential damage to the European economy by such a move and providing alternative solutions. One such is to put the limit at 1ppm which is the limit for PFOS, a more environmentally damaging chemical and at this level a straight swap of contents is possible.

The FIA and Eurofeu will continue to lobby ECHA and National Regulators to put the case for a sensible and pragmatic solution.