Fire Retardant Toxicity

June 25, 2012 By: Erin Block

Western states are often dry during the summer months, but this year beetle-kill deadwood, low winter snowpack, and an early spring are all combining to create high wildfire danger. Already this year the High Park Fire near Fort Collins has been listed as the most destructive fire in Colorado history. But now some are questioning the environmental safety of a method used in fighting these wildfires:  fire retardants containing ammonium phosphate, which are dropped from slurry bombers.

After several fish kills attributed to ammonium phosphate in California and Oregon, recent lawsuits have pushed to pass legislation stating that fire retardants be dropped no closer than 300 feet from streams and lakes.  However, having to map and route around waterways is causing some concern over the speed at which firefighters are able to start containing the fire’s growth. And when seconds count, that could make all the difference. But should it be at the expense of our fisheries?