The EPA did not extend the regulatory framework currently in place for CFCs and HCFCs to HFC refrigerants, but it did clarify that venting HFCs is illegal. (Photo courtesy of Luxaire.)
Contractors and technicians who are making do with chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants and are not quite ready to embrace hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), may want to rethink their game plan. Several developments are taking place on the government front that are putting CFCs and HCFCs (such as R-12 and R-22) more directly in the firing line of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Meanwhile, government and industry are paving the way for wider use of HFCs.

Here is a summary of those developments:

  • The EPA has successfully leveled fines against two major retailers, one for selling CFCs and HCFCs to noncertified buyers, and the other for venting such refrigerants.

  • On March 12, the EPA published a final rule clarifying that it is illegal to vent HFCs, which should be recovered like CFCs and HCFCs. However, the rule does not go far enough according to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), which wants the full set of current CFC and HCFC regulations extended to HFCs. The fuller set of EPA regulations would embrace Section 608 and 609 requirements for leak-rate prohibitions, evacuation levels, leak repairs, record keeping, refrigerant recovery equipment certification, contractor licensing, and refrigerant sales restrictions.

    Speaking recently at the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) Media Roundtable event, Glenn C. Hourahan, P.E., ACCA vice president, Research and Technology, said, "Quality contractors want to preserve future usage of HFCs by following good refrigerant use practices today. However, those who observe the law are put at an unfair economic disadvantage by a growing subset of the HVACR community that chooses to ignore responsible refrigerant use practices.

    "ACCA members strongly encourage EPA to restore a ‘level' marketplace by vigorously en-forcing current CFC and HCFC regulations and by extending the same regulations onto HFCs. With HFC-410A widely recognized as the replacement refrigerant for HCFC-22, extension of current regulations to HFCs is critical for responsibly safeguarding the natural environment in the future."

    (In a related development, the EPA has backed off on placing restrictions on the sale of HFC-134a canisters for automotive use.)

  • The Heating, Air-Conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) issued a position paper calling R-410A "the manufacturing consensus new refrigerant for new air conditioning equipment," a ringing endorsement of a refrigerant that some contractors have hesitated moving to because of operating pressure questions and costs. HARDI is the major trade association for HVACR wholesalers.

    Ilir Jusufi of Day & Night Heating & Cooling, Novi, Mich., demonstrates the use of self-contained refrigerant recovery equipment. (Photo by John R. Hall.)


    The EPA fined Wal-Mart Stores Inc. $400,000 for selling 30-pound cylinders of HCFC-22 and 12-ounce cans of CFC-12 to noncertified buyers at Sam's Club. The agency also fined Dominick's Finer Foods LLC $85,000 for excessive refrigerant leaks at 23 of its Chicago-area supermarkets.

    Julius Banks of the EPA said the Wal-Mart action was part of an ongoing EPA effort to make sure regulated refrigerants are only sold to EPA-certified individuals. The seller is targeted, he said, rather than the buyer.

    "The sales restrictions are geared toward sellers and unless there was some criminal activity pursued by the technician in an effort to purchase refrigerant, it is not likely the EPA would pursue enforcement action against the technician."

    Banks stressed the importance of EPA certification. "It is more than a license to buy refrigerant. It is mandated in order to service, maintain, or repair equipment. The intent is to make technicians aware of the environmental consequences of not recovering refrigerant."

    Banks said the timing of fine settlements against two high-profile companies was coincidental. "Actions are based primarily on tips and complaints from people who write or call our hotline. I don't believe that we are stepping up efforts. We have always enforced the refrigerant regulations."

    The EPA monitors activities of contractors mainly through complaints "from their competitors and their [customers]," Banks said. Such complaints come in on a daily basis. "Most contractors are good businessmen who properly attempt to recover refrigerant. Those who don't should be fearful that someone could file a complaint against them."

    Proper procedures, he said, include "not intentionally venting, having properly certified technicians and recovery equipment, and making sure that their businesses are certified with their regional EPA office." Furthermore, contractors need "to make certain that they are providing required paperwork to their customers."

    Banks described contractors as being "on the front line for spreading accurate information about EPA regulations and the benefit of refrigerant recovery. We see them as advocates in our effort to promote protection of the ozone layer."

    Recent data from the EPA (at indicates that the amount of R-22 reported as reclaimed in the United States fell from 7.1 million pounds in 2000 to 4.3 million pounds in 2001; industry officials had hoped the trend would have been the opposite. Speculation is that the cost of R-22 dropped so low, it was cheaper to buy new R-22 than to recover and reuse what was already in a system. This could end up putting more pressure on R-22 supplies in the future.

    Bank's comment that the EPA's efforts to enforce Clean Air Act regulations are ongoing is demonstrated by news at the agency's Web site ( A document issued in mid-February, for example, listed 18 industrial companies with preliminary findings of alleged violations. Those fell into two categories: Finding of Violation (FOV) alleges that companies violated Clean Air Act regulations, and Notice of Violations (NOV) alleges that companies violated federally enforceable state regulations. The investigations are ongoing.

    When installing today’s air conditioning systems, contractors need to take care that the proper amount of refrigerant is charged. (Photo courtesy of York International.)


    The EPA also recently published a final rule on substitute refrigerants. It amended the rule on refrigerant recycling, promulgated under section 608 of the Clean Air Act, to clarify the requirements of section 608 to HFCs and perfluorocarbon (PFC) refrigerants that are used as substitutes for CFCs and HCFCs.

    "The statutory venting prohibition remains in effect for these refrigerants, and the known venting of HFC and PFC refrigerants during maintenance, service, repair and disposal of appliances remains illegal," the rule states.

    The amendment, first introduced on June 11, 1998, was stalled for years as various stakeholders challenged the sales restriction on HFC-134a. Basically, the EPA is saying that since HFCs are non-ozone-depleting refrigerants, they can't be regulated with the same intensity as CFCs and HCFCs, which are identified as ozone-depleting.

    Industry insiders see the leak-rate aspect as critical. For example, supermarket systems would be considered in violation if they leak HCFCs and CFCs at a greater than 35-percent annualize rate. If such systems had HFCs, they would not be in violation. (The leak rate regulation applies to all systems containing more than 50 pounds of refrigerant, including industrial processing, food processing, and large air conditioning systems.) Naturally, the cost of refrigerants and a commitment to proper maintenance would encourage a contractor to keep leak rates as low as possible.

    Finally, the EPA revised and updated composition and purity standards for reclaimed refrigerants that will help reclamation facilities make sure the refrigerants they are reintroducing to the industry meet federal regulations.

    Wholesalers Join In

    Johnnie Drury, chair of HARDI's Refrigeration Systems Council, said the association's status report on refrigerants was issued to help wholesalers "understand current technology trends."

    He continued, "The local distributor - in concert with his manufacturing suppliers - is best suited to provide timely training for the installing and servicing dealer-contractors. In fact, it is expected." High on the training agenda, he said, is R-410A.

    The report traces the phaseout of R-22; the allowance system for controlling the production, import, and export of certain HCFCs, including R-22; availability issues concerning R-22; and technical considerations of R-410A.

    Regarding the availability of R-22, the report said, "There is currently adequate supply for global HCFC-22 equipment. Even with the EPA HCFC allocation rule in place, supply issues are not anticipated for R-22 in the U.S. for the short term.

    "However, it is important for contractors to think ahead about their businesses and make sure they understand what will be happening in the marketplace in the next several years, so they have the refrigerant products needed to service customers.

    "Longer term, global supply issues could emerge from continued implementation of the Montreal Protocol. In the U.S., the Clean Air Act phaseout schedule allows R-22 to be manufactured for servicing existing equipment until the year 2020. However, the HCFC step-down mandated by the Montreal Protocol in 2015 may restrict the supply below market demand levels unless the HVAC industry makes prudent moves to using R-22 alternatives, fixing leaks, and recovery and recycling used refrigerants."

    The report continued, "The future is now for equipment using R-410A. Equipment using R-410A has been commercially available since 1996. It is anticipated that the use of R-410A will increase rapidly as the industry approaches the R-22 phaseout for new equipment in 2010.

    "R-410A equipment technology will continue to advance, allowing the industry to provide its customers with the continuous improvements in comfort and service they demand."

    Publication date: 04/12/2004