On January 1, 1994, under the latest revision of the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer, the domestic production of halons, widely used by the civilian, commercial, and military communities as a fire and explosion suppressant, was banned. The ban did not prohibit the use by the Navy of existing halon stocks, which may be adequate for projected use well into the next century at present levels of consumption. There is some concern, however, that potential future restrictions may limit the use of existing supplies.
The Navy is critically dependent on halon as a fire and explosion suppressant aboard existing aircraft and surface ships. Therefore, the Navy is faced with the following question: In view of the ban on halon production and the possibility of future restrictions on the use of existing stocks, should the research effort on halon substitutes be placed at a high priority or at a low priority while transferring emphasis to the search for alternative (non-halon-like) approaches? To answer that question, the Office of Naval Research requested the assistance of the Naval Studies Board.
Accordingly, the Committee on Assessment of Fire Suppression Substitutes and Alternatives to Halon was established under the auspices of the Naval Studies Board and charged to examine the following issues and provide advice to the Navy regarding its research on fire suppression systems and possible replacements for halons:
- Beginning with a thorough understanding of the mechanism whereby halon adversely influences the ozone layer, and possibly contributes to global warming, assess the research effort directed at finding a substitute for halon as a fire and explosion suppressant, and evaluate any potential substitute for its (a) effectiveness compared to halon, (b) toxicity as a pure compound and after exposure to fire, (c) stability of the compound (e.g., thermal, material compatibility), (d) ozone depletion potential, and, if possible, global warming potential, and (e) impact on the firefighting system (e.g., weight and volume competitiveness).
- Based on the results of Task 1, assess the potential for finding a drop-in replacement for halon, and identify the most promising areas of research.
- Time and resources permitting, address the issue of comparable alternative approaches to fire and explosion suppression aboard military platforms.
The committee conducted a study of roughly eight months' duration beginning in April 1996 and including the following meetings and site visits:
- April 9-10, 1996, in Washington D.C. Held organizational meeting; received navy briefs.
- June 10-11, 1996, in Norfolk, Virginia. Toured halon installations aboard the USS Kearsarge, an amphibious assault ship. Received briefings from Naval Sea Systems Command personnel.
- July 15-16, 1996, in Mobile, Alabama. Toured U.S. Navy shipboard full-scale fire test facility aboard the ex-USS Shadwell and observed a full-scale test of an FM-200™-based fire suppression system in the U.S. Coast Guard shipboard full-scale fire test facility aboard the State of Maine. Received briefings from Naval Research Laboratory personnel and contractors and U.S. Coast Guard personnel and contractors.
- August 14-15, 1996, in San Diego, California. Toured North Island Naval Base and examined halon systems on U.S. Navy fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Received briefings on halon and inert gas generator systems from Naval Air Systems Command personnel and contractors.
- November 11-12, 1996, in Washington, D.C. Final meeting.
The resulting report represents the committee's consensus view on the issues posed in the charge.