Environmental concerns have resulted in new Environment Protection Agency refrigerant regulations. Columnist Robert Johnson explains how to make sure your company is in compliance.

Title VI, Stratospheric Ozone Protection, of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 established a production phase-out schedule and yearly reduction percentages for ozone-depleting chemicals, including industrial refrigerants. One of the primary applications of these chemicals is refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment. This amendment requires recycling; bans the intentional venting or releasing of refrigerants during maintenance, service, repair or disposal; restricts emission of refrigerants; and establishes strict control over their use.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for federal regulations concerning the protection of stratospheric ozone and has issued numerous regulations and requirements to ensure compliance. EPA regulations include equipment certification requirements; maintenance and service practices; refrigerant reclaim requirements; training requirements; and record-keeping on the purchase, use, sale, transfer and disposal of these substances.

Nonozone-Depleting Refrigerants Included

The EPA is amending the regulations on refrigerant recycling and required service practices under section 608 of the Clean Air Act for chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants. This act will extend regulations to the new substitutes, including hydroflourocarbon (HFC) and prefluorinated compound (PFC) refrigerants such as HFC 134a. These regulations will supplement a self-effectuating prohibition on venting substitute refrigerants to the atmosphere that became effective on November 15, 1995.

Section 608(c)(2) of the Clean Air Act prohibits the knowing release of substitutes for CFC and HCFC refrigerants during the maintenance, service, repair or disposal of refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment. This means that virtually all commonly used refrigerants in refrigeration and air-conditioning, other than ammonia, are, or soon will be, regulated substances. Organizations that own or manage facilities with refrigeration or air-conditioning equipment must ensure they are in compliance with EPA refrigerant regulations.

Violations of these 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 imprisonment. Submission of false or misleading information or failure to submit required records can result in criminal penalties, including two years imprisonment.

Unannounced inspections are conducted routinely by the EPA to evaluate compliance and also to respond to violation reports.

Develop a Compliance Program

Developing and implementing an EPA refrigerant regulations compliance program is vital to every affected organization to ensure successful compliance. The ideal compliance plan minimizes capital expenditures and operating costs while achieving full compliance with applicable laws and requirements.

The first step in developing a compliance plan is to appoint an individual or team responsible for and authorized to create a plan and to oversee its successful implementation. Coordinating the plan across all company functions and departments is essential. The team or individual should have the authority and budget to effect change; be current on the organization's refrigeration and air-conditioning operations, industry standards and related regulations; and be able to communicate successfully with other departments.

Before a refrigerant compliance program is formulated, a comprehensive refrigerant systems assessment should be performed. All equipment containing refrigerants and the quantity of refrigerant each piece contains should be identified, and an accurate and complete database should be established.

The corporate refrigerant compliance manager will need to understand, evaluate and institute required administrative controls, policies and procedures to verify compliance. Required forms and any necessary permits must be completed and sent to the EPA. Organizations must define their existing work processes and modify them if necessary to ensure compliance to EPA requirements. This includes operating and maintenance practices as well as refrigerant recovery, recycling and reclamation procedures. All current processes and procedures should be examined for gaps and potential compliance failure points. New policies and procedures may have to be established to ensure complete accountability from initial refrigerant acquisition through final disposal.

Producing an organization-specific refrigerant regulations compliance program is an important step to effective compliance. This should describe how EPA regulations and requirements would be integrated into the organization's existing work processes. It should define the organization's specific policies and procedures for refrigerant handling from purchase through final disposal, including establishing uniform record-keeping methods.

A roll-out implementation training process should be conducted to ensure everyone affected receives a copy of the compliance program and any other information they need to ensure its success. This also is a good time to express commitment to organizational compliance. After the training, you can have employees sign a statement of understanding that compliance is a condition of their employment.

To ensure on-going compliance, regularly scheduled compliance update training should be conducted. This will reinforce the importance of compliance and further demonstrate the organizations intent to comply.