Halon Fire Extinguishers

– in the House of Lords at 2:57 pm on 4th March 2003.

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Photo of Lord Beaumont of Whitley Lord Beaumont of Whitley Green 2:57 pm, 4th March 2003

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to assist owners of halon fire extinguishers to dispose of them, once it is illegal to possess them.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, under the European ozone-depleting substances regulation, halon fire protection systems and fire extinguishers must be decommissioned, unless they are critical, by 31 December this year, and the halons recovered. It would be illegal to use such extinguishers after 31 December but, strictly speaking, it is not illegal to possess them. In 2001, the DTI and DEFRA issued detailed guidance on the phase-out of halon. An industry group recently sent us a proposal to assist with the decommissioning of redundant extinguishers and the recovery of halon, and we are considering it.

Photo of Lord Beaumont of Whitley Lord Beaumont of Whitley Green

My Lords, will the Government get on with it? It is a very short period of time before these fire extinguishers have to be decommissioned. They are expensive to dispose of legally, very inexpensive to dispose of illegally, and, if discharged illegally, they do enormous harm to the ozone layer.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I certainly accept the noble Lord's last point. Halon is something like 10 times as damaging as CFCs, although we are dealing with smaller amounts. However, we published our guidance in 2001, well ahead of the due date. A large number of such appliances have been decommissioned. We have the technology and the facilities for dealing with the excess halon.

Photo of Baroness Byford Baroness Byford Conservative

My Lords, how many halon extinguishers does the department think are in circulation at the moment? One option is to incinerate them. How many such plants are available and, roughly geographically, where are they situated throughout the UK?

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, the estimate in 2001 was that about 2.5 million of the small hand-held extinguishers were around. That excludes the halon in buildings-based systems which is being decommissioned. The extinguishers can be dealt with now by incineration; shortly, a plasma arc process will be available. There are incineration plants which specialise in halon at Ellesmere Port and at Fawley, Hampshire. The plasma arc facility will be in the Teesside area.

Photo of Lord Livsey of Talgarth Lord Livsey of Talgarth Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister initiate an exchange scheme of new, safe fire extinguishers for old ones to ensure that halon fire extinguishers are withdrawn from service on time? This should be done immediately.

Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, as regards buildings almost everybody deals with an assessment of their fire system every year for insurance purposes. This has been going on since the directive has operated, and under guidance from the department since 2001. Therefore I do not think that any new exchange system is necessary to fulfil those obligations.