Regulatory Developments

Changes in Refrigerant Regulation: Are You Prepared?

The regulation of refrigeration and air-conditioning equipment is changing.  The universe of regulated refrigerants is expanding, commonly used refrigerants are being phased out, and revised refrigerant regulations are being phased in.  Is your facility prepared to cope with the changes in order to avoid penalties and enforcement actions?

The Changes

Refrigerant regulations originally addressed only ozone-depleting substances (ODSs) used as refrigerants.  However, revisions to the regulations, effective January 1, 2017, revised the definition of “refrigerant.”  The effect of this change was to extend the refrigerant regulations for ODS refrigerants to non-ozone-depleting substitute refrigerants. The change was primarily meant to address hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have a very high global warming potential, but it does apply to any substitute refrigerant, other than the few that are specifically listed as exempt, and greatly expands the universe of regulated refrigerants.

One of the most commonly used refrigerants is R-22, more formally known as HCFC-22.  R-22 is a Class II ODS that is in the process of being phased out.  As of 2020, R-22 will not be manufactured in or imported into the United States.  The use of R-22 is not forbidden.  It can still be used and existing supplies used up, but no new R-22 will be produced or manufactured.  As a result, maintaining equipment that uses R-22 will become increasingly difficult and expensive as supplies of the refrigerant dwindle.

Leaks are inevitable, but leaking refrigeration equipment is not a violation if dealt with properly.  As part of the refrigerant regulation revisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made substantial changes to the requirements for addressing refrigerant leaks.  These changes, which modify leak detection and repair requirements, as well as inspection, recordkeeping, and reporting requirements, become effective on January 1, 2019, and will increase the compliance burden on regulated facilities.

The Motivation to Be Prepared

Even before the refrigerant regulations were revised, the failure of facilities to track the loss of regulated refrigerants from equipment was among the 10 most common Clean Air Act (CAA) violations. And while the perception is that enforcement may be scaled back under the current administration, it is not necessarily the reality but, rather, that ongoing enforcement is just less publicized.  In fact, the EPA in at least one region has indicated that facilities subject to refrigerant regulations will be a target for inspectors going forward. The changing regulations and impending inspections are likely to lead to more enforcement actions for those facilities that are unprepared.

Have a Plan

If you have refrigeration equipment, you should have some form of refrigerant management system to ensure that your facility is doing all it can to stay in compliance.  Obviously, the complexity of the management system will vary greatly depending on the complexity of the refrigeration needs within your facility, but at the very least, you should start with:

  • An inventory of all refrigeration equipment or appliances, including the refrigerant type and the full charge.
  • Written job descriptions for all personnel involved with the operation and maintenance of refrigeration equipment, as well as anyone involved with the administration of the refrigerant management plan.  The job descriptions should clearly define the refrigerant-related responsibilities of each position.
  • Written procedures to ensure that all effected personnel are familiar with refrigeration regulations, requirements, and the penalties for noncompliance.
  • Written procedures to ensure that all affected personnel receive the necessary training to comply with the regulations.  This should be all personnel who may potentially interact with refrigeration equipment.  For example, maintenance personnel must know that they can’t top off refrigerant levels unless they are a certified technician.
  • Written procedures for:
    • Leak detection and repair of equipment;
    • Recordkeeping;
    • Maintenance and disposal of equipment or appliances; and
    • Technician requirements and procedures for contractors and/or technicians working on refrigeration equipment at the facility.

The Takeaway

Compliance with refrigerant regulations is challenging, as evidenced by its standing among the most common CAA violations, and it will only become more challenging as the new regulations, especially those pertaining to refrigerant leaks, are phased in.  Any facility with refrigerants will have refrigerant leaks eventually, and refrigerants cost money.  So, the more you leak the more money you are wasting, and the greater your facility’s exposure to enforcement actions.  Having a refrigerant management plan for your facility will help reduce the likelihood of leaks and simplify the process of addressing leaks once they occur by ensuring that personnel know their responsibilities.  So, if your facility doesn’t have a written refrigerant management plan, it is time to start working on it.

Author's nameJoin Greg Haunschild, PE, the founder, CEO, and owner of ACS Engineering, for BLR’s on-demand webinar presentation of Revised Refrigerant Requirements: End-User Best Practices for Recordkeeping, Leak Inspections, Reporting, and More.