Solar panels exposed to fire pose “negligible risk” to health, environment: IEA

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Rooftop solar fire hazard analysis finds negligible risks for chemical contamination, and no cancer related health effects from PV exposed to fire.

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As Australia enters peak bush-fire season, a rooftop solar fire hazard analysis assessing the human health and environment impact of fires on buildings with PV panels has returned findings of negligible risks for chemical contamination, and no cancer related health effects.

The detailed study, commissioned by the International Energy Association, assessed the health risks to the general public from exposure to emissions when rooftop PV modules are exposed to fire.

As well as measuring airborne emissions, the study, led by the US National Renewable Energy Labs, examined the potential for indirect contamination due to water run-off during fire-fighting activities.

Potential indirect impacts were also considered – including the potential for chemical transport to soil and/or groundwater resulting from extinguishing a fire with water.

The results for indirect environmental impacts and human contamination were found to be “well below” risk-based screening levels and maximum contaminant levels from US Environmental Protection Authority.

The potential incremental cancer risk, associated with inhalation exposure to lead and cadmium released from photovoltaic modules was measured at less than the one in a million – or “negligible” – risk level.

The findings have been welcomed by Australian solar industry body, APVI, as good news for consumers, the environment and – in particular – for emergency first responders like fire fighters.

As APVI notes, fires on buildings with solar remain a relatively rare occurrence in Australia, but the boom currently gripping the nation means PV panels are becoming a regular feature on more and more rooftops.

“The good news is that the results showed negligible risks for chemical contamination due to run-off resulting from fire-fighting activities and no cancer related health effects, with both being well below levels advised by regulatory agencies,” said APVI chair Renate Egan in comments on Thursday.

Sophie Vorrath

Sophie is editor of OneStepOffTheGrid.com.au and deputy editor of its sister site, RenewEconomy.com.au. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

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