The descriptive text was pretty convincing: "Up for bid is a new sealed 30 lb. cylinder of R-22 refrigerant. I require a copy of your 608 or 609 EPA certificate before shipment. You can take the test online at ... The 609 test is very easy to pass. Usually takes only 45 minuets [sic] and you're done. After you pass your test, just e-mail or fax me a copy of your temporary certificate."

Gee, what a great incentive for getting my EPA certification. Now I can go on eBay and stock up on R-22. Oh wait, maybe I can't. Then again, maybe I can, as long as I do it before the eBay monitors get wise to the seller and pull the listing.

I know there are a lot more outlandish things that have been put up for sale on eBay and unceremoniously yanked after a lot of negative publicity or at the discretion of eBay management. (Remember the guy who was selling a piece of gum that was "allegedly" chewed by Arizona Diamondbacks' outfielder Luis Gonzalez?)

Let me say that I am a huge eBay fan. I enjoy buying and selling online. And eBay Web site administrators do a good job of policing their massive listings. But some listings sneak under their radar and sales are often transacted before the red flag goes up.

Unfortunately the sale I mentioned above was not red-flagged.

The Sellers Speak

Being a curious journalist, I decided to e-mail the seller. Here is a transcript of my questions and the seller's answers from two e-mail exchanges (sans typos):

Question: How do you know if your buyer is legitimately EPA certified?

Answer: All my refrigerant products are shipped by my distributor who does verify the EPA certificate I forward to them. I really can't tell you how it's done, just that it is.

Question: So I assume that the buyer mails a copy of the certificate to you? Sorry to be so nosey, but handling refrigerants is a tricky business and too many do-it-yourselfers don't have a clue.

Answer: That's correct. The buyer e-mails or faxes a copy of his certificate to me, which I forward to my distributor. I don't handle the product in any way. It ships out of Florida. But you're right. There are people selling refrigerant illegally on eBay. The EPA does monitor these purchases, so you really need to keep records of every sale.

I also contacted a seller who was not as fortunate as this guy. He had his listing pulled by eBay, but not before he made contact with some buyers. Here is our "conversation":

Question: I'm curious - do you tell prospective buyers that they need to be EPA certified to handle R-22A refrigerant?

Answer: Thanks for your warning but it was too late. I was gone all day and by the time I read your e-mail, eBay had already canceled my auctions. Fortunately, both of the high bidders e-mailed me and they are EPA certified, so it will work out.

Question: You have to be careful and know the laws. Do you make sure the buyers can prove they are EPA certified by faxing you their certificates (which can unfortunately be forged, too)?

Answer: Will do, I already told them that. I sell so many different kinds of things there is no way that I can know the law on everything. I do the best I can!

Is It Legal?

In the opinion of Dick Shaw, technical consultant for the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), selling these large quantities of R-22 over the Internet might be illegal. He notified the EPA of what was going on after I contacted him.

"What a hoot," said Shaw. "Julius Banks at the EPA, who I have copied, should find this very interesting. The 609 Certification only allows the sale of containers up to 20 pounds, and this container is 30 pounds. I guess this chap could sell if he has a 608 Certification on file, though. What a rip on the regulations.

"Imagine what will be on eBay when the HFCs are more popular, and one does not need any certification to purchase. The do-it-yourselfers will have a ball injuring and possibly killing themselves and others with these high-pressure alternatives."

Banks, Refrigerant Recycling Program Manager - U.S. EPA Global Programs Division, shot me off an

e-mail stating, "I tend to give benefit of the doubt in believing that such people have good intent, but are ignorant of the law. Nonetheless, ignorance has never been a defense."

You'll have to excuse me now. I'm in a bidding war on a brain surgeon's certificate.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 10/20/2003