Chemicals used by water-bombing aircraft in Australian bushfire could contaminate waterways: expert

Xinhua
Although these chemicals are not considered harmful to humans or mammals, some experts believe that fire retardants could pose a threat to marine life.
Xinhua

The size and scale of Australia's ongoing wildfire crisis has left authorities on the ground stretched to the limits, when strategic water-bombing aircraft played a vital role in firefighting.

Credited with saving thousands of homes along with a substantial number of people over the past few months Down Under, the planes and helicopters have dropped massive amounts of water over containment lines mixed with fire retardant chemicals to slow the burning process.

Although these chemicals are not considered harmful to humans or mammals, some experts believe that fire retardants could pose a threat to marine life.

"If fire retardant is applied near waterways or is washed into these areas with rain, there is the potential for it to directly affect fish and other aquatic creatures and indirectly by promoting algal blooms by increasing nutrients in water," Associate Professor Tina Bell from the University of Sydney told the Sydney Morning Herald on Tuesday.

Made up of fertilizers, the pink liquid also contains ammonium and corrosion inhibitors to prevent damage to the aircraft that drops them.

Imported from the company Perimeter Solutions in the United States, the Phos-Chek brand was deemed safe for use by American lawmakers after an extensive approval process.

"Unfortunately, very little research has been done in Australia on the immediate and longer term effects of fire retardants on plant and animal communities," Bell explained.

"Most of it has been done in the US and Canada where the ecosystems are quite different."

While some concerns over the product may linger, the water-bombing aircraft remains a critical tool for Australian firefighting authorities to save lives and communities.  

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