drawbacks of Mag Chloride
Magnesium chloride-based fire retardants have serious drawbacks
A magnesium chloride-based fire retardant is going through qualification testing to be considered for addition to the US Forest Service Qualified Product List (QPL). The retardant is being considered despite numerous reports on the damaging effects of using magnesium chloride – to aircraft, the environment, and people.
Before magnesium chloride is approved for use on federal and state lands, it’s important to know the facts.
Magnesium Chloride is NOT Safe for the Environment
- Colorado State University reports that once mag chloride enters a tree’s water conducting system, it accumulates in the margins of leaves or needles, which can potentially lead to the death of the tree.
- Chloride is toxic to aquatic life even in low concentrations. It can inhibit aquatic species’ growth and reproduction, and impact food sources.
- The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency tested magnesium chloride as a road salt. They found it was highly corrosive to cement and introduced heavy metal contamination to water quality and aquatic life.
- The Iowa Department of Transportation funded a study on the impact deicer had on its roads, and found that “Magnesium solutions are especially damaging and …decreases service life of concrete.”
Stanford research shows that phosphate-based fire retardants do not alter soil chemistry beyond typical topsoil compositions and are suitable for wildfire prevention. There is no data available for the long-term effects of dropping magnesium chloride-based long-term fire retardant on our forests, but with what we already know, is it worth the risk?
Magnesium Chloride is Not Safe for Aircraft or People
- Companies that produce chemicals are required to create a Safety Data Sheet (SDS) to inform customers of the potential human contact hazards associated with the product. Information included in the magnesium chloride-based fire retardant SDS says it: “May cause skin irritation.” “May cause eye irritation.” “Contains components suspected of causing cancer.” First aid measure regarding contact with eyes states: “If in eyes: Immediately flush eyes with water for several minutes, remove contacts if wearing, and then continue to rinse with water for at least 15 minutes, occasionally lifting the upper and lower eyelids. Get medical attention without delay.”
The SDS also states that combustion may generate hydrogen chloride. Exposure to hydrogen chloride can result in corrosive damage to the eyes, skin and respiratory tissues, as well as pulmonary edema and even death, in extreme cases.
- The US Environmental Protection Agency has banned the use of magnesium chloride as a deicing agent in and around aircraft. In its report on deicing operations, the EPA states, “Salts, including magnesium chloride … are not approved for use in aircraft operational areas because they are corrosive to aircraft.”
- An Airport Advisory from the FAA notes that while chloride chemicals are effective for deicing, “These chemicals are known to be corrosive to aircraft and therefore are prohibited for use on aircraft operational areas.”
- Lead components on an aircraft are susceptible to severe corrosion from exposure to magnesium chloride.
- Airports use potassium acetate as a deicer at a cost of $7/gallon, compared to 60-to-70 cents a gallon for magnesium chloride – so they are spending 10x as much for deicer to avoid mag chloride corrosion.
PHOS-CHEK® meets all USFS corrosion requirements and does not contain any carcinogens. The USFS estimates that wildland firefighters will be covered with retardant twice a year, up to 10 hours at a time. With what we know about magnesium chloride, is it worth the risk to add it to the QPL?
The corrosive impact of magnesium chloride on aircraft as highlighted in this section can lead to loss of structural integrity and potentially catastrophic failure. Fire retardant that is loaded on an airplane will, at some point, come into contact with almost every part of that plane, especially metal surfaces like aluminum alloys, that are most susceptible to corrosion. Sidelining the limited number of planes and helicopters available to fight wildfires can lead to critical delays that impact the safety of firefighters on the ground and the public.
With everything we know about the dangers of magnesium chloride, and with many environmental and safety risks still untested, is it worth the risk to approve it for use as a fire retardant on all public lands?