The EPA is getting tougher on refrigerants in air conditioning and refrigeration - a primary source of ozone-depleting chemicals.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is getting tougher on refrigerants in air conditioning and refrigeration - a primary source of ozone-depleting chemicals. Ozone-depleting substances destroy the stratospheric ozone layer, which cumulatively causes a rise in the quantity of UV-B radiation reaching the Earth's surface. The result could be increased incidences of certain skin cancers and eye cataracts, suppression of the body's immune system, damage to plants and food crops, and reduced aquatic life growth.

Many regulations exist governing ozone-depleting chemicals. Title VI of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, signed Nov. 15, 1990, established - among other things - a production phase-out schedule and yearly reduction percentages for ozone-depleting chemicals. The amendment:

  • Requires recycling.

  • Bans the intentional venting or releasing of refrigerants during maintenance, service, repair or disposal.

  • Restricts emission of refrigerants.

  • Establishes strict control over refrigerant use.
  • The EPA is responsible for federal regulations on the protection of stratospheric ozone and has issued numerous regulations and requirements to ensure compliance. EPA regulations cover equipment certification requirements, maintenance and service practices, refrigerant reclaiming requirements, training, and record keeping on the purchase, use, sale, transfer and disposal of these substances.

    Section 608 of the Clean Air Act prohibits the knowing release of substitutes for chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) re-frigerants. The EPA believes that by establishing requirements for the maintenance, service, repair and disposal of appliances containing hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) and perfluorocarbon (PFC) refrigerants, it will help minimize the environmental harm that may result from the transition away from ozone-depleting chemicals. The rule also establishes a consistent regulatory framework for all halocarbon refrigerants and lowers leak rates for ap-pliances containing ozone-depleting re-frigerants. The EPA's opinion is that establishing a consistent regulatory framework will facilitate compliance with Section 608 by simplifying and clarifying regulatory requirements. This means that most commonly used refrigerants other than ammonia are, or will soon be, regulated substances.

    Violating EPA regulations and requirements can result in fines up to $27,500 per day, per violation, and intentional violations can result in criminal penalties of up to five years in prison. Submitting false or misleading information or failure to submit required records also could incur criminal penalties, including two years in prison.

    The gravity of a specific violation is determined by examining the potential environmental harm, the risk of (or actual) refrigerant loss and the extent of deviation from the regulations. In addition, factors not directly related to the violation can affect the penalty assessment. These include good faith efforts to comply, previous violations and payment of any previously assessed penalties for earlier violations. Producing an organization-specific refrigerant regulations compliance program can help you avoid costly penalties.

    Developing Your Plan

    When developing an EPA refrigerant regulations compliance plan, appoint an individual or team to create a plan and oversee its successful implementation. Keep in mind that it is important to coordinate the plan across all facility functions and departments. Title VI of the Clean Air Act provides information on the responsibilities and characteristics of the responsible compliance official. This individual or team performs policy or decision-making functions and acts as a general partner or proprietor, principal executive officer, ranking elected official, or designated representative responsible for the overall operation of manufacturing, production or operating facilities.

    The facility refrigerant compliance manager is the focal point for program activities. He or she should:

    • Have the authority and budget to effect change.

    • Be current on the facility's HVAC/R operations, industry standards and related regulations.

    • Be able to communicate well with other departments.
  • However, it is the corporate refrigerant compliance manager's responsibility to understand, evaluate and institute required administrative controls, policies and procedures.

    Send all required forms and any necessary permits to the EPA. Facilities must define their existing work processes and modify them accordingly. This includes operating and maintenance practices, refrigerant recovery, recycling and reclamation procedures. Examine all current processes and procedures for gaps and potential compliance failure points. Some facilities may have to establish new policies and procedures to ensure complete accountability from initial refrigerant acquisition through final disposal.

    Using flowcharts and work statements as required, the program should describe how EPA regulations and requirements would be integrated into the facility's existing work processes. It also should define the facility's specific policies and procedures for refrigerant handling, including establishing uniform record-keeping methods.

    Conduct a rollout implementation training process to ensure everyone affected receives a copy of the compliance program and any other information needed to ensure success. This also is a good time to express commitment to organizational compliance. After training, employees should sign a statement of understanding explaining that compliance is a condition of their employment. Conduct scheduled compliance update training at least once a year.

    The bottom line is that your facility should take the necessary steps to comply. Start by creating a well-defined and documented refrigerant compliance program that will help you meet the EPA's rigorous standards. If you do not have a plan in place, be prepared to pay the penalty.