The recent announcements about some folks getting caught for illegal HCFC-22 practices raises an interesting question: What impact will this have in producing better servicing procedures to keep enough of the legally obtained refrigerant available for retrofit? And it raises further questions about the effect this will have on supplies as the phaseout of the use of virgin R-22 continues and the greater use of reclamation grows.

Getting Caught

Both stories were initially brought to my attention by David Stirpe of the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy. In one instance, a guy who worked for a Detroit area appliance parts company pleaded guilty to illegally purchasing about 123,000 pounds of R-22 smuggled into the United States. The initial report did not say what the penalty was, but it did say that the guy’s employer had previously been fined $900,000 for illegally buying 30,000 pounds of smuggled-in R-22.

The second instance involved a man in West Bloomfield, Mich., who tried to sell R-22 on Craigslist. The story doesn’t say where he got the refrigerant, but his posting on Craigslist included such phrases as “If you cannot get R-22 on your own, no EPA card or license, we can do business,” and “I have virgin 30-pound jugs of R-22 that I will sell to anyone who can’t otherwise get one for EPA or license reasons and the distributors deny you.”

The latter instance raised red flags to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and a federal sting was arranged with an agent posing as a buyer.

The seller was fined $5,000, sentenced to one year of probation, and ordered to pay restitution. Oh, and he lost his EPA certification to legally buy refrigerant.

So here are both a buyer and seller doing illegal things with R-22 and getting caught. Such enforcement could well take more of the buyers and sellers of the illegal stuff out of the marketplace. And that is a good thing.

Meanwhile, refrigerant manufacturers and wholesalers are hoping these developments will make more technicians aware of the importance of buying only legally produced refrigerant through reputable suppliers.

Now, there are those who say that not wanting to get caught and face fines and/or losing the certification license should be the biggest motivator.

And there are those in the industry who say only better enforcement as demonstrated in the instances cited will move more service technicians to maintaining tighter, more efficient systems to hold onto enough supplies of the R-22 they already have legally.

Others say that any efforts to dry up the illegal buying and selling will help steer the industry to greater attention on reclamation where already legally obtained virgin R-22 being used in the field can be brought back to ARI-700 purity standards and used again and again.

What does not yet seem to be factored into this legal issue is the implication for a further option — and that is to retrofit R-22 systems with an HFC alternative, of which there are many depending on the type of equipment. Those caught up in the illegal buying and selling of R-22 figured that an HCFC refrigerant was more urgently needed than looking for an HFC option.

It might also be noted that the buyer in question was apparently not that interested in reclamation of any R-22 he might have had that was legally obtained or looking at HFC retrofit options. The seller certainly seemed to be only interested in making a quick buck.

Moral of the Story

The moral of this story is the same as it has been for the 35 or so years we have been in a regulated industry. There are rules that have to be obeyed. We may not like the rules or agree with them. But rules are rules. That’s what parents have been telling their children ever since Adam and Eve had troubles with their first two kids — and they were speaking from experience about breaking at least One Big Rule.

Here’s hoping the latest punishments of some folks within our industry help us do better than those first two parents.

Publication date: 7/2/2012