Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Effects of a fire-retardant chemical to fathead minnows in experimental streams

January 1, 2003


Each year millions of liters of fire-retardant chemicals are applied to wildfires across the nation. Recent laboratory studies with long-term fire-retardant chemicals indicate a significant photoenhanced toxicity of products containing sodium ferrocyanide corrosion inhibitors. Our objective of this study was to determine the toxicity of fire-retardant chemicals to fathead minnows during exposure in experimental outdoor streams.


Stream tests were conducted to determine the potential toxicity of a pulse of exposure as might occur when fire retardant chemical is rinsed from the watershed by rainfall. Two artificial 55-meter experimental streams were dosed with different concentrations of Fire-Trol® GTS-R, or uncontaminated for a control. Replicate groups of fathead minnows were added to screened containers (10 fish per container) and exposed to retardant chemicals in the recirculating flow of the stream for up to 6 hours.

Results and Discussion

Under field conditions toxicity of GTS-R only occurred in the presence of sunlight. When GTS-R was tested on sunny days, 100% mortality occurred. However, when tested during heavily overcast conditions, no mortality occurred.


Lethal concentrations of cyanide were measured when GTS-R with YPS exposures were conducted under sunny conditions, but not under cloudy conditions, indicating that a minimum UV level is necessary to induce toxicity as well as the release of cyanide from YPS. The toxicity observed with GTS-R was likely associated with lethal concentrations of cyanide. Rainwater runoff following applications of this fire-retardant at the recommended rate could result in lethal concentrations in small ponds and streams receiving limited water flow under sunny conditions.

Publication Year 2003
Title Effects of a fire-retardant chemical to fathead minnows in experimental streams
DOI 10.1065/espr2003.03.148
Authors R.D. Calfee, E. E. Little
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Science and Pollution Research
Index ID 70025510
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse