Halons have become obsolete because of their environmental impacts, specifically on the atmosphere. Halons were popularly used in fire extinguishers.
Halons: Environmental Impacts and Issues
The main environmental impact of halons on the atmosphere is the destruction of the ozone layer. It was in the 1980s when scientists discovered the damaging effect of halons or halogenated hydrocarbons on the ozone layer in the atmosphere. The ozone layer helps to reduce the harmful effects of the sun’s ultraviolet light by reducing the amount of UV that reaches the surface of the earth. In effect, the ozone layer acts like the earth’s sunscreen. It was discovered in the 1980s that the halons commonly used back then led to the destruction of the ozone layer.
The significance of the effects of halons on the atmosphere can be more readily recognized through the potential risks of the destruction of the ozone layer and how such destruction would impact the human body. It has already been established that too much UV that reaches the human skin can lead to a higher rate of occurrence of skin cancer, specifically melanoma.
The use of halons as refrigerants and fire extinguishing agents leads to the increased threat of melanoma to practically everyone on the planet, especially when considering that, by the 1980s, the hole at the South Pole was already significantly big and continued to become bigger. The dissemination of this information about the potential indirect impact of using halons on human health led to increased public support for the elimination of halons in fire suppression or fire extinguishing systems.
Halons and the Montreal Protocol
The agents have become obsolete not just because of public and business support for the replacement of halons as agents in fire extinguishing or fire suppression systems, but also because of the formal agreement among nations to actually stop using halons, through the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol was an agreement among 25 countries to restrict the manufacture and use of chemicals that can contribute to the destruction of the ozone layer. These countries implemented appropriate policies as the result of the agreement.
The Montreal Protocol established policies and corresponding rules and regulations that prohibited companies and government agencies from using halons in fire extinguishing or suppression systems. Developers, manufacturers and users of halons are forced to find and use alternative ways of suppressing or extinguishing fires, thereby leading to the rise of the use of alternatives such as water sprinkling systems.
- Gagnon, R. (2007). Design of Special Hazards and Fire Alarm Systems. Delmar Cengage Learning.
- Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol (2001). Standards and Codes of Practice to Eliminate Dependency on Halons. [Opens in New Window]
- Newland, M. J., et al. (2013). Southern hemispheric halon trends and global halon emissions, 1978–2011. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 13(11), 5551-5565.