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NFPA Publishes Updated Fire Code

Fire Prevention

Revised and updated standards for fire prevention in drycleaning plants was  published in December 2015 by the National Fire Protection Association.

NFPA standards are adopted by states, cities and local governments and affect nearly every building in the country, said Nancy A. Pearce, the NFPA staff liaison for the committee that has been working on the new standard for drycleaning. NFPA is a non-governmental entity that has no enforcement power. That is up to local jurisdictions who will need to incorporate the revised NFPA standard for their rules and regulation.

“I would encourage you to tell your governing authorities that there is a newer version which will probably work to your advantage,” Pearce said.

Pearce, who oversees 18 other fire codes in addition to drycleaning for NFPA, said the last revision was published in 2011 and when the process began on the current revision she thought it would be simple matter. That hasn’t been in the case.

“When I walked into the first meeting, committee chairperson Jan Barlow, Jan’s Cleaners, said, ‘OK we’re going to fix this. This whole thing needs to be blown up and start from scratch.’ ”

Thus began a process of out with the old and in with the new as the 15-member committee over the course of several meetings endeavored to develop a new fire code that reflects recent changes in solvents and equipment in the drycleaning industry. The final document was approved by the committee last summer with no dissenting votes.

The NFPA standard for drycleaning dates back to 1925 with requirements based on the widespread use of combustible and flammable solvents in the industry at that time.

“The industry is very different now than in the ’30s,” Pearce said. “Hazards have changed significantly due to changes in equipment and solvent.

When non-flammable perchloroethylene became a major industry solvent, many of the old fire prevention requirements didn’t apply. The NFPA standard kept some of the old language and added some new due to perc but it wasn’t always clear that the standard that applied to flammable solvents did not also apply to perc and in some cases cleaners ended up having to do things that didn’t really make sense, Pearce said.

“Perc was good from a fire safety standpoint,” Pearce said. But in the face of growing environmental regulations, there has been a trend away from perc and back to flammable solvents, albeit ones that are less flammable than those of the pre-perc days.

Pearce said that raises the question: Are we introducing fire hazards again?

It’s an example of how environmental protection and fire safety can become competing interests. When those two are in conflict, the environment will win every time, Pearce said. Thus high-flash hydrocarbon solvents will get the nod over inflammable perc.

As another example, she noted that freon was good from a health and safety standpoint, but it was phased out due to environmental concerns.

With both types of solvents currently in widespread industry use, the new standard addresses both. In addition, it accounts the different types of equipment that are in use. “The type of solvent you use and the type of equipment wil determine your requirements,” Pearce said.

The revised standard will better identify the type of equipment to be used with a particular solvent to make it clear to enforcement authorities what type of fire protection is required.

For example, the revised standard will recognize the differences between closed-loop and open-circuit systems. Closed-loop systems have fewer fire protection requirements than open systems since there is less chance for the creation of fugitive emissions.

The current standard identifies drycleaning plants in terms of the solvent used, primarily based on the solvent’s flashpoint starting with Type I with the lowest flashpoint up to Type 3, which includes current high-flash solvents. Type IV plants are those that use a non-combustible solvent, ie., perc.

Within those groups, the standards are further specified based on the type of equipment.

The versions cover four equipment types, beginning with Version 1 which is an open system using either combustible or non-combustible solvent that is continuously open to the air — a bucket for example. That is prohibited under the new standard.

Version II equipment is an open-circuit system using either combustible or non-combustible solvents that releases fugitive emissions, suppresses and controls combustion and that has fire safety controls.

Version III systems are those using either combustible or non-combustible solvents closed loop that do not release emissions, prevents combustion and has safety controls.

Versions IV systems are closed loop that use non-combustible solvents (perc) that has safety controls and does not release emissions.

Neither Class I solvent nor Version 1 equipment would be allowed under the NFPA standard.

Rules will be tuned to match the solvent class and equipment version.

As new solvents are introduced, solvent manufacturers or suppliers would be required to provide information about the solvent and certify the flashpoint. They also must provide operators with written instructions on the safe use of the solvent.

Questions that need more study, Pearce said, are whether a solvent degrades over time and its flashpoint changes and if additives to the solvent change the flashpoint. Pearce said research on this question would have to be supported by the industry. The new can be viewed or purchased on the NFPA web site, www.nfpa.org/32.

While the committee is not likely to meet again for a couple of years, Pearce said new members are welcome. Information on the committee is also available on the web site.

The committee is chaired by Jan Barlow, a past president of the Drycleaning and Laundry Institute and owner of Jan’s Professional Dry Cleaners in Michigan. Other industry members are on the committee include Jim Douglas of GreenEarth Cleaning, Steve Langiulli of Columbia/ILSA, Mary Scalco of DLI, Chris Tebbs of Fabricare Solutions in Canada, and Vic Williams of Union Drycleaning Products. The committee also includes representatives from fire safety and protection, insurance and environmental regulatory bodies.


Posted By Harry Kimmel | 1/26/2016 9:13:04 AM