WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is cautioning homeowners, HVAC contractors, and service technicians of the safety hazards related to recharging existing home air conditioning systems with a propane-based refrigerant. Using a propane-based refrigerant in an air conditioner that is not designed to use propane or flammable refrigerants poses a threat to homeowners as well as service technicians, because systems that are recharged with an unapproved alternative called “22a” can catch fire or explode, resulting in injury and property damage. EPA said it continues to investigate instances where propane-based refrigerants have been illegally marketed and used as substitutes for HCFC-22 (R-22) and will continue to take enforcement actions where appropriate.

“Using an unapproved, flammable refrigerant in a system that wasn’t designed to address flammability can lead to serious consequences, including explosion or injury in the worst cases,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “As the summer cooling season gets started, we want to make sure consumers and equipment owners know what is going into their system is safe.”

A number of refrigerants with “22a” or “R-22a” in the name contain highly flammable hydrocarbons, such as propane, and are being marketed to consumers and contractors seeking to recharge existing home and motor vehicle air conditioning systems that were not designed to use propane or other flammable refrigerants. As a result, EPA recently proposed that 22a and other highly flammable refrigerants are unacceptable for use in existing central air conditioning systems because they pose significantly more risk to public health or the environment than acceptable substitutes. Under the authority of the Clean Air Act, EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program evaluates chemicals and technologies on an ongoing basis within a comparative risk framework.

EPA encourages HVAC technicians and contractors to consult its website for more information and recommends homeowners confirm that air conditioning service providers follow manufacturers’ recommendations. Recharging a cooling system with the wrong refrigerant can void manufacturers’ warranties.

For more information about R-22a and acceptable refrigerants for air conditioning, visit www.epa.gov/snap/questions-and-answers-about-r-22a-safety.

For more information on the most recent SNAP rules, visit www.epa.gov/snap/snap-regulations.

Publication date: 5/5/2016

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