Thursday, July 11, 2013

Do Not Put R-22a in Your Air Conditioner

EPA has taken legal action against them

R-22a, also known as 22a Refrigerant and R-290, is propane often mixed with other hydrocarbons and a substance with an odor like pine scent. It is flammable and potentially explosive and is not a replacement for R-22 also known as HCFC-22 Freon refrigerant which is chlorodifluoromethane. The use of R-22 has been phased out and is not used in new air conditioning systems and heat pumps.

R-22 (also known as HCFC-22) had been the refrigerant of choice for residential heat pump and air-conditioning systems for more than four decades. Unfortunately for the environment, releases of R-22, from leaks, contribute to ozone depletion. As the manufacture of R-22 is phased out over the coming years as part of the international agreement to end production of HCFCs, new residential air conditioning systems are now designed to use more ozone-friendly refrigerants.

Existing air conditioning and heat pump units that use R-22 can continue to be serviced with R-22. There is no U.S Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, requirement to change or convert R-22 units for use with a non-ozone-depleting substitute refrigerant. Such changes are allowed, if the equipment has been properly modified and the alternative refrigerant has been approved for that type of use. R-407C is allowed for retrofits but R-410A is not allowed in retrofits due to its higher working pressures. No change to existing equipment is required, you can just continue to use R-22 because the new substitute refrigerants would not work well without making some changes to system components. R-22a which is being sold as a direct substitute without modification has not been approved by the EPA for substitution into older air conditioning equipment.

According to the EPA, the Clean Air Act (CAA) prohibits the introduction into interstate commerce of substitutes that have not been submitted, reviewed and approved by the EPA and R-22a has NOT been approved. It is illegal to sell R-22a for residential home air conditioners. There is no approved product "R-22a” which is a manufacturer brand name for R-290, propane. In a recent news release the EPA states that R-22a is a potential explosive hazard in home air conditioning systems.

Though EPA has approved the use of propane as a substitute refrigerant in industrial process refrigeration systems and stand-alone retail food refrigerators and freezers that are specifically designed to use flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants, EPA has NOT approved any flammable substitute for home and small commercial air conditioning systems designed to use HCFC-22 or R-22. Home air conditioning systems are not designed to handle propane or other similar flammable refrigerants. The use of these substances poses a potential fire or explosion hazard for homeowners and service technicians.

Propane can be a good refrigerant and the EPA has approved its use as R-290 for commercial and industrial refrigerators and freezers that are systems designed to safely use it. Though EPA ignored for a long time the growing illegal use of propane in home air conditioning systems, they are now deciding what actions should be taken to stop this because it is dangerous. If informed, most certified air conditioning system technician will refuse to work on a system that contains either R-22a (propane) or R-22a mixed in with R-22 (chlorodifluoromethane), so if you try to top off your air conditioning system refridgerant charge with R-22a to save money, you are on your own for maintenance and repair.

Theoretically, there should be no oxygen and no source of ignation in air conditioning and condenser lines, but in real life it happens. EPA reports of explosions and injuries that have occurred both overseas and in the U.S. as a result of the use of propane and other unapproved refrigerants in air conditioning systems. They are investigating and say they will take enforcement actions if appropriate. In the meantime, try not to become an unfortunate statistic to save on the cost of HCFC-22 or R-22.

Remember if you have propane in your system and a part has to be replaced or repaired, welding any portion of the system without first removing the propane could result in an explosion. Any leak in the system could result in explosive gas accumulating in an enclosed area. For safety the air conditioning system should be completely emptied prior to any repair, and since there is no normal recovery equipment for propane, that means completely venting to the atmosphere (allowed for pure propane but not for a propane and chlorodifluoromethane mix) and completely recharging the system. There is no established legal route to recover and dispose of a mixture of R-22 (HCFC-22) and R-22a. Mixed gasses of unknown percent of mix cannot be reclaimed, they have to be safely destroyed.

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