Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Industry Update: FBI Issues Warning on Illegal Use of Flammable Refrigerants

From the onset, the federally mandated phase out of R-22 has been rife with controversy, and the confusion created by fluctuating prices as well as the never-ending supply and demand uncertainty has left refrigerant distributors, users, and equipment owners, extremely vulnerable.

A number of obscure companies have been selling R-22 alternative refrigerants that are marketed as “Natural Refrigerants”, and “Drop Ins”. They boast that these refrigerants are “Inexpensive”, “Do not require any certification to purchase”, and “Can be mixed with R-22”. The horrible truth is that these so called “Natural Refrigerants”, are comprised primarily of highly flammable gases such as propane and they are illegal for use in AC applications.

The FBI has recently issued a warning to be on the alert for refrigerant substitutes that have not been approved by the EPA. Reports are on the rise worldwide of explosions, fires, and severe injuries, including fatalities, as the result of these flammable refrigerants being used in unapproved HVACR applications. In 2013 the EPA took action against at least one U.S., company for selling an unapproved flammable refrigerant, yet many believe that without an increased enforcement effort, this problem will lead to even greater safety hazards and tremendous liability issues.

There are safe, and well established, non-ozone depleting refrigerants, but some HVACR product distributors, and refrigerant users, have been lured into supporting inferior products because of their cheap price. Along with the many hazards that flammable refrigerants pose to users and equipment owners, there are a few other “cheap” R-22 alternative refrigerants being misrepresented, and subsequently misapplied, that are leading to serious losses in system efficiency and compressor failures. Products like R-407C are relatively inexpensive, but are not suitable for use as a direct replacement for existing R-22 applications without changing the mineral oil to POE oil and flushing the line sets. The cost of the additional system conversion requirements make R-407C, and other products with similar requirements, the least practical option for servicing existing R-22 equipment.

The long term liabilities associated with selling and using hazardous, and or inferior R-22 replacements, are causing many to realize that cheap options are very seldom the best options.

The bottom line is, a cheaper, non-approved EPA product could end up costing more in the long run. It could cause the system to malfunction or lose efficiency. At worst, these unapproved refrigerants are very flammable and basically made of propane which can easily cause an explosion. 

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