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Commercial Air Conditioning, Commercial HVAC

HVAC Equipment & Safety Risk: Counterfeit Refrigerant

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Last Updated on January 15, 2020


counterfeit refrigerant

If your business has older HVAC equipment that’s been repaired recently, hopefully you used a trusted HVAC supplier. Many types of air conditioning repairs require adding refrigerant to the system. If your repair company bought refrigerant from the wrong source, you might have counterfeit refrigerant in your system that can be dangerous for occupants of your space.

There have been reports of fires and explosions caused by counterfeit refrigerant. Find out how to keep your business safe and your air conditioning system damage-free.

Why is counterfeit refrigerant on the market?

Counterfeit refrigerant and contaminated refrigerants have existed for quite some time, in many cases being illegally imported from China. Several years back there were reports of explosions in refrigerated shipping containers using fake refrigerant. Some of those incidents resulted in fatalities.

However, the problem has increased recently because ozone-depleting refrigerants (such as R22) are being phased out as per EPA regulations. A complete ban on manufacturing or importing these refrigerants is in effect as of January 1, 2020. As a result, the supply of R22 is dwindling and prices are skyrocketing. That opens the door for unscrupulous vendors profit by selling contaminated and counterfeit refrigerant at lower prices to unsuspecting businesses.

As reported by Cooling Post, these fake refrigerant “cocktails” have been found to contain high levels of methyl chloride and other chemicals that can cause dangerous and expensive results when used in your air conditioning system.

There are even reports of propane being sold as R22 refrigerant.

Do you have older HVAC or commercial refrigeration equipment? Due to EPA regulatory changes, R22 refrigerant (the standard used to power AC and commercial refrigeration systems for decades) can no longer be manufactured or imported in the US. Get informed about how this change impacts you with this information bulletin. R22 Refrigerant Phase Out: Do You Need to Replace Your AC?.

R-22 refrigerant phase out

What are the risks posed by counterfeit refrigerant?

Poor performance
At the very least, counterfeit refrigerant with unknown ingredients can impair the operation of your system and decrease it effectiveness. You may also notice increases in your utility bills due as the system runs longer trying to cool your space.

System damage
If counterfeit refrigerant is introduced into your air conditioning system during a repair, you’re going to end up with more repair bills. The “unlabeled” chemicals like methyl chloride will cause corrosive damage to your system over time, causing leaks and even compressor failure leading to system breakdowns.

Fires and explosions
When the chemicals in counterfeit refrigerant mix with the genuine refrigerant already in your system, the result can be catastrophic. According to ACHRNews, the resulting chemical mix produces “highly reactive and/or toxic compounds. Exposure of the system’s contents to air and/or moisture could result in production of a strong acid and violent chemical reaction.” That was the cause of the shipping container explosions mentioned earlier.

We’re sure you agree that these outcomes are not worth the money that might be saved by using counterfeit refrigerant. Read on to find out what you can do to keep your business safe.

Protect your business, your employees and your customers

As a business owner or manager, you’re probably not working directly with refrigerants yourself (unless you’re EPA certified). So how can you be sure you don’t end up with counterfeit refrigerant in your air conditioning or commercial refrigeration systems?

We recommend being vigilant and asking any service providers you use about what they are doing to verify the authenticity of refrigerant they use. For example, major refrigerant manufacturers such as Dupont and Chemours have implemented brand assurance programs, including labeling and authentication measures intended to combat counterfeit refrigerant. Are your vendors using verifiable sources and following recommended protocols?

Steps Arista is taking to keep customers safe

Counterfeit refrigerant is a dangerous problem. Here at Arista, we are committed to keeping our customers and our employees safe and that’s why we are taking this situation very seriously. Here is what we are doing to protect your business and your HVAC system:

1. Buying from trusted sources

Our sources for the refrigerants we use are not only well-known and trusted HVAC suppliers, but they provide full traceability. That means we can be sure the contents of their refrigerant cylinders are authentic and have not been tampered with.

2. Verifying refrigerant in the cylinder

We use refrigerant brands that provide anti-counterfeiting labeling and packaging features. These include shrink sleeves and security labels with embedded verification codes and even hologram images. We also check recovery cylinders in the field with refrigerant analyzers.

3. Verifying refrigerant in your system

As explained earlier, dangerous consequences happen when counterfeit refrigerant mixes with authentic refrigerant in the system. That means we must be sure about what’s already in your system as well as the refrigerant we add during a repair procedure. Before adding or recovering refrigerant, we perform verification testing.

Don’t put your business at risk by choosing the wrong suppliers to maintain your HVAC equipment. Now more than ever before, it’s essential to have a trusted relationship with a service company that has your back. If you don’t have that now, read these related articles to learn how to find someone you can trust:

How to Choose an HVAC Contractor That Shares Your Company Values
Facilities Managers: 8 Things to Look for in an HVAC Company

If you’re in the NYC metro area, don’t hesitate to reach out to Arista for a consultation.