Environmental Permitting

Don’t let refrigeration lead to violation

Recently, EPA announced it had reached a settlement agreement with one of the nation’s largest grocery store chains for violations of regulations governing emissions of ozone-depleting substances from refrigeration equipment.  Alleged violations included failing to promptly repair leaks and failing to keep adequate service records for refrigeration equipment.

No one wants to be the subject of an EPA enforcement action, so if your facility has a refrigeration system that uses Class I or Class II refrigerants here are basic steps to prevent your refrigeration system from resulting in a violation:

  • Know the full charge.  The full charge is the amount of refrigerant necessary for the system/equipment to operate normally.  This information is typically available from the manufacturer. 

Why is it important to know the full charge?

  • EPA’s leak repair requirements only apply to systems/equipment with a full charge of refrigerant greater than 50 pounds (lbs) in any independent refrigeration circuit. 
  • The full charge must be known to calculate the leak rate for the system/equipment.
  • Calculate the leak rate.  Each time you add refrigerant to a system/equipment with a full charge greater than 50 lbs, calculate the leak rate as soon as possible. 

How is leak rate calculated?  The leak rate is expressed in terms of the percentage of the appliance’s full charge of refrigerant that would be lost over a 12-month period if the current rate of loss were to continue over that period. The rate must be calculated using the same method for all appliances located at a facility.

  • Make repairs, retrofits, or retirements within the appropriate timeline.  If the leak rate is above the trigger rates, you will have either repair, retrofit, or retire the system/equipment.

What are the trigger rates?

  • For commercial refrigeration (i.e., retail food or cold storage warehouse refrigeration): 35%
  • For industrial refrigeration (i.e., chemical, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and manufacturing industries): 35%
  • For comfort cooling (i.e., rooftop air conditioning units): 15%

In general, leaks must be repaired by certified technicians within 30 days of exceeding the trigger rate.  However, leaks need not be repaired if, within 30 days of discovering a leak exceeding a trigger rate, a plan is developed to retrofit or retire the leaking equipment within 1 year.

  • Keep good records.  One of the keys to compliance with any environmental regulation is recordkeeping.  Any time work is conducted on refrigeration equipment always maintain records of what work was conducted, the date of the work, and the quantity of refrigerant added.  If a retrofit or retirement plan is developed, make sure it is dated and a copy is maintained on site.

Additional Resources:

Timothy P. Fagan is a Legal Editor for BLR’s environmental publications, focusing primarily on air quality related topics. Mr. Fagan has covered environmental developments with BLR since 2000. Before joining BLR, he spent 5 years in environmental consulting and was responsible for air quality permitting and compliance for a broad range of industries in both the private and public sector. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Villanova University and a Master’s degree in environmental engineering from the Pennsylvania State University.