United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission - Protecting People and the Environment

Information Notice 2000-12: Potential Degradation of Firefighter Primary Protective Garments

UNITED STATES
NUCLEAR REGULATORY COMMISSION
OFFICE OF NUCLEAR REACTOR REGULATION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20555-0001

September 21, 2000

NRC INFORMATION NOTICE 2000-12: POTENTIAL DEGRADATION OF FIREFIGHTER PRIMARY PROTECTIVE GARMENTS

Addressees

All holders of licenses for nuclear power, research, and test reactors and fuel cycle facilities.

Purpose

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is issuing this information notice to alert addressees to potential degradation of performance of firefighter primary protective garments (FFPPGs). It is expected that recipients will review the information for applicability to their facilities and consider actions, as appropriate, to avoid similar problems. However, suggestions contained in this information notice are not NRC requirements; therefore, no specific action or written response is required.

Description of Circumstances

The licensee for Hope Creek Nuclear Power Plant reported that following a fire event at the plant it outsourced its FFPPGs to a firm that specializes in decontamination and repair of FFPPGs. The firm found that some of the FFPPGs were degraded and had to be condemned while others had to be repaired. None of this damage was attributed to the fire event; rather, it was all attributed to storage practices and normal wear. Informal NRC staff discussions with representatives at several other nuclear power plants indicated that licensees may not be aware of this problem.

Discussion

Moisture Barrier Degradation

Aldan Engineered Coated Fabrics indicated in a letter dated November 3, 1999, http://www.usfa.fema.gov/alerts/breathetex.htm exit icon, that its product BREATHE-TEX has shown signs of degradation under certain conditions. BREATHE-TEX is a trade name for a material that is used as a moisture barrier in FFPPGs. In a letter from Edwin T. Winter, Chairman and CEO of Aldan Engineered Coated Fabrics, to manufacturers of FFPPGs, the degradation is described as follows:

"The degradation, not readily observable by routine visual inspection, is primarily in the form of film cracking. A degraded moisture barrier film will allow the passage of liquids, thereby reducing the level of protection in proportion to the degree of degradation."

In a joint statement issued by manufacturers of FFPPGs, dated November 15, 1999, http://www.turnout-info.com/en/news/joint_stmt.htm exit icon (note there is an underline "_" between "joint" and "stmt" in this web address) they remind users of FFPPGs that the moisture barriers are the "most fragile component in your gear [FFPPGs]" and that FFPPGs should be inspected on a regular basis. They also state that "particular attention should be paid to the moisture barrier, regardless of what brand it is."

Outer Shell Degradation

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) report titled "Statistics for the Time-Dependent Failure of Kevlar-49/Epoxy Composites: Micromechanical Modeling and Data Interpretation" by S. L. Phoenix and E. M. Wu indicates that Kevlar, a common fabric used in the production of the durable and heat-resistant outer shell of FFPPGs, is susceptible to photodegradation from ultraviolet (UV) light sources.

Photodegradation is a phenomenon in which the tensile strength of the fibers is reduced as a result of exposure to UV light sources such as sunlight and fluorescent light. Photodegradation leads to reduced abrasion and tear resistance in aramid fibers such as Kevlar.

Many fabrics used in FFPPGs (see list quoted below) use aramid fibers that are subject to photodegradation. Therefore, special care must be taken to ensure that the fabrics are protected from UV light sources. The User Instruction, Safety and Training Guide provided by Lion Apparel (Dayton, Ohio) gives the following warning:

"Exposure to ultraviolet light (found in the sun's rays and fluorescent light) will severely weaken and damage the fabrics in your protective clothing after only A FEW DAYS. This is especially true for fabrics of the following aramid materials: Hoechst Celanese Pbi, Dupont Kevlar, Dupont Nomex, Dupont Nomex Omega, Dupont Nomex IIIA, Lenzing P84, Southern Mills Advance, and BASF Basofil."

FFPPGs should be dried after cleaning in the shade rather than in a place exposed to UV light.

Users of FFPPGs should consider photodegradation as a damage mechanism. This degradation may not be readily apparent but may seriously degrade the protection offered to plant firefighters. Regular inspection and testing should be performed in accordance with the recommendation of manufacturers and distributers.

Conclusion

Proper storage and regular thorough inspection of FFPPGs are important to ensure that FFPPGs provide effective firefighter protection. FFPPG degradation may not be readily apparent; therefore, special training may be required for inspection of FFPPGs.

This information notice requires no specific action or written response. If you have any questions about the information in this notice, please contact the technical contacts listed below or the Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation (NRR) project manager.

  /RA/

Michael F. Weber, Director
Division of Fuel Cycle Safety and Safeguards
Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards
/RA/

Ledyard B. Marsh, Chief
Events Assessment, Generic Communications and Non-Power Reactors Branch
Division of Regulatory Improvement Programs
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation
Technical contacts: Christopher G. Cahill, Region I
610-337-6916
E-mail: cgc@nrc.gov
Mark H. Salley, NRR
301-415-2840
E-mail: mxs3@nrc.gov
Daniel M. Frumkin, NRR
301-415-2280
E-mail: dxf1@nrc.gov
Paul W. Lain, NMSS
301-415-6317
E-mail: pwl@nrc.gov
Charles D. Petrone, NRR
301-415-1027
E-mail: cdp@nrc.gov
 
Attachments: 1. List of Recently Issued NRC Information Notices
2. List of Recently Issued NMSS Information Notices

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