ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) has issued an alert regarding safety hazards and counterfeit refrigerants.

Counterfeit R-134a, containing R-40 (methyl chloride or chloromethane), has been found in mobile air conditioners, stationary air conditioning, and transport refrigeration systems in many countries.

For personal safety, and to avoid serious injury or death, special care must be taken when accessing the service ports to sample or work on systems that are not functioning properly or have been serviced by others. R-40 chemically reacts with aluminum inside HVACR systems to generate highly reactive and toxic compounds, and exposure of the system’s contents to air and/or moisture could result in production of a strong acid and violent chemical reaction. Several container systems have exploded at service facilities, some resulting in fatalities. Some of these systems were found to contain R-40 and/or other unacceptable substances.

Compounds such as R-40, R-22, R-142b, R-152a, and R-12 have been found mixed with R-134a in newly filled refrigerant cylinders marked as containing R-134a. There have also been instances of counterfeited brand name R-134a cylinders sold containing refrigerants other than R-134a.

Research is being conducted by ASHRAE to identify the reaction mechanisms for R-40 and aluminum inside systems, as well as other reaction products. It is also necessary to determine the concentration of R-40 that is safe as a contaminant. AHRI Standard 700-2012, Specification for Fluorocarbon Refrigerants, would allow up to 0.5 percent of other volatile impurities. There have been no known issues arising from refrigerant that meets AHRI Standard 700.

The problem with counterfeit and contaminated refrigerants goes beyond just R-134a, though.

Other refrigerants, including R-22, R-404A, and R-410A, have also been found to be counterfeit and, in some instances, badly contaminated. Cylinder labels and packaging have been counterfeited in some instances, and therefore are not reliable indicators of the authenticity of the contents of a cylinder.

Contaminated refrigerants can cause a variety of issues that may range from increasing energy use and decreasing cooling performance, to significantly reducing the operating life of equipment, and even dramatic and injurious equipment failures, as in the case of R-40 contamination. In addition, some counterfeit refrigerant products contain varying amounts of ozone-depleting substances, which may be illegal in certain parts of the world under the terms of the Montreal Protocol.

Publication date: 3/11/2013