The fire retardant dropped out of planes? It’s sticky, gooey and made in the Southland

It’s a sight now synonymous with California’s fire season: A tanker aircraft flies over vegetation and drops a stream of red.



a plane flying in the air with smoke coming out of it: A fixed-wing aircraft drops Phos-Chek on the Whittier fire in Goleta in 2017. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)


© (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
A fixed-wing aircraft drops Phos-Chek on the Whittier fire in Goleta in 2017. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

But what exactly is that stuff?

It’s fire retardant, used in preemptive strikes to keep flames from spreading. Phos-Chek is by far the dominant brand and is used around homes and under fireworks displays as well as in fighting wildfires. It’s bright red for a reason, and although it’s not especially toxic, you really don’t want a plane to dump hundreds of gallons of it directly on you.

And it’s made in Southern California: in a 100,000-square-foot plant in Rancho Cucamonga, where 30 to 40 people work to produce it.

First commercialized in 1963, the powder mixture was developed by Monsanto and later

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