EPA warns against flammable refrigerants

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is advising truck owners to avoid hydrocarbon refrigerants being sold as inexpensive substitutes for HFC-134a and CFC-12.

Marketed under such names as OZ-12, DURACOOL 12a and HC-12a, the refrigerants are sold online and at flea markets as replacements for EPA-approved refrigerants. The EPA said they may contain large quantities of propane, butane or other highly flammable gases.

“Existing mobile air conditioning systems are not designed to use a hydrocarbon refrigerant that is highly flammable and similar to what supplies the fire in your backyard barbecue,” said Ward Atkinson, chair of the interior climate control standards committee of the Society of Automotive Engineers.

There is not enough proof hydrocarbon refrigerants will not leak from the mobile air conditioning systems to cause fires and explosions, the EPA said.

“Hydrocarbon blends can degrade gaskets and hoses designed for HFC-134a or CFC-12, making leaks more likely,” said Gary Hansen, vice president of engineering at Red Dot, which makes heavy-duty heating and air-conditioning systems.

Trained AC technicians can run a test to see whether the air conditioner has been serviced with the designated refrigerant, Hansen said.

“Professional service includes electronic refrigerant identification, leak testing, leak repair, defective parts replacement, and recovery and recycling of refrigerant,” said Drusilla Hufford, director of EPA’s stratospheric protection division.

Using hydrocarbon refrigerants will void the air conditioner’s warranty, Hansen said. Vehicle manufacturers have not authorized the use of the refrigerants in current-production AC systems.

Hydrocarbon refrigerants are illegal in 19 states.

For more information, call the EPA Ozone Protection Hotline at (800) 296-1996 or visit http://www.epa.gov/ozone/snap/refrigerants/index.html.