Is it safe to eat blueberries with fire retardant?

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - With Alaska having a very busy fire season, fire retardant is becoming an all too common thing in many areas. You might even find some of the ruddy red powder in your favorite blueberry patch.

So when you run into a patch showing some off coloring, what should you do?

In a Facebook post on BLM’s page, Ann Suter, at the Missoula Technology and Development Center, explains “eating blueberries coated in retardant won’t harm you but the U.S. Forest Service advises against eating berries or other garden foods that have been exposed to retardant because people could have unknown allergies to some of substances used in making retardant”.

Basically, if your family will starve if they don't harvest and store enough berries this season, go ahead and eat! If not, it's probably best to wait a year.

In addition to allergy risks, the chemicals can have other effects, such as irritating eyes or exposed skin. It can also be harmful to pets' fur.



Retardant drop on the Shovel Creek Fire north of Fairbanks.

It turns out, the 85 percent of fire retardant is made up of hydrogen oxide, better known as water. Another ten percent is fertilizer, and the final five percent is coloring, usually in the familiar rusty red of iron oxide, which is added simply to make the spray visible.

Though the burst of fertilizer in the retardant can sometimes burn the leaves of vegetation the year it is applied, it can easily be washed off by rain, or, if the retardant falls on your landscape plants, with a garden hose. While managers advise against eating berries that were sprayed with retardant the year of the fire, the next year's harvest could be bountiful. That's because the fertilizer should give the berry patch a boost for next year's harvest.

So what do you do if the berry or other food you want to eat is painted red?

Here are some other tips from the BLM on how to clean them:

  • Do NOT use chlorine or bleach to help with the removal of retardant. Chlorine combines with ammonia to form chlorine gas, which is toxic to humans and animals.

  • Remove any retardant using a brush, water, and detergent as quickly as possible.

  • The iron oxide coloring agent can penetrate some materials and be difficult to remove if dried. A power washer may be required to remove residue.

  • Fire retardant tends to be very slippery when applied and will hold water in place for several hours to several days. After the retardant has dried, it may become wet and slippery again if exposed to water.

Here you can read the full note on BLM’s Facebook page.

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