Just about all companies and their workers are aware of the impact their activities and their equipment have on the environment. Companies ignore their relationship to the environment at their peril. If fouling the environment doesn't bother them on a personal level, the fact that it's simply bad for business is likely to get their attention.

The editor of Process Cooling regularly runs articles on maintenance and how important it is to keeping equipment in top shape so it runs efficiently and doesn't waste energy. Part of the maintenance task with refrigeration and cooling systems is being vigilant about system leaks.

Although today's refrigerants are kinder to our environment, "no refrigerant, even the safer ones, are totally harmless to the ozone layer," says Bob Savasta, marketing communications manager at Spectronics Corp., Westbury, N.Y., a maker of industrial leak-detection products. "Granted, there are safer refrigerants used now, but you certainly don't want any refrigerant leaking into the atmosphere."

Gary Bartman president of Turner Designs Hydrocarbon Instruments Inc., in Fresno, Calif., says his leak-detection units are used downstream of oil/water heat exchangers in closed- or open-loop cooling systems. They continuously monitor for the presence of oil in water that can foul the tower, contribute to bacteria growth and put hydrocarbons into the air.

In addition to environmental harm, though, there's the practical side of catching leaks early. Savasta notes that his company's approach -- inject dye and scan with a hand-held ultraviolet lamp -- not only detects refrigerant but also spots compressor lubricating oil, which generally accompanies a refrigerant leak. Lose enough oil, and the compressor goes, he says, which could wind up as system failure and downtime for the entire process. Bartman says that finding leaks means lower chemical-replacement costs in closed systems, higher operating efficiency through reduced fouling, and less potential for EPA fines from unwanted discharge to the environment.

And if that's not enough of an incentive to keep a vigil for leaks, consider this: Get a bad reputation for how you handle your process, and your customers might go somewhere else.