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What are Refrigerant Gases, Leak Detection, and Reporting?

The article describes refrigerant gases, the different types of refrigerants, and their categories such as HCFCs, CFCs, and PFCs. Further explained is where refrigerant gases come from, why they are used in AC & HVAC equipment, and how existing United States and European regulations require detailed monitoring and reporting of refrigerant gas usage, leaks, and disposal.

Refrigerant gases are those used in climate control in commercial and business facilities such as warehouses, stores and office buildings. The refrigerants used in commercial heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) or regular air conditioning (AC) units include hydrofluorocarbons (HCFCs), chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs) and perfluorocarbon (PFC). HCFCs are used instead of CFCs which are known to destroy the ozone layer of the atmosphere. HFCs do not have any of the organic chemicals chlorine or bromine, but they still do have a possibility of causing ozone depletion.

Refrigerants have been around for many years. Refrigerants are pressurized to condensed them which in turn reduces air temperature. Refrigerants are able to extract heat out of the air and moderate the internal temperatures through the repetitive evaporating and condensing of the refrigerants.

In the 1970s, scientists discovered that certain refrigerants such as Freon and many others in the HCFC category could cause spontaneous, chemical reactions and destroy the delicate ozone layer protecting Earth´s atmosphere. Developments in mandatory refrigerant usage and new regulations were passed to restrict the methods of manufacturing and the ways that refrigerants could be used in common AC or HVAC systems. Refrigerants can not be purposefully vented or let to escape into the atmosphere.

Scientists know that refrigerants contribute to global warming since they have a very high global warming potential (GWP). GWP is a ratio developed to determine which chemical substances and refrigerant gases released into the atmosphere create more warming. These gases are considered Greenhouse Gases (GHGs). The most common greenhouse gas (GHG) talked about the most often is carbon dioxide (CO2) or just carbon for short. Little to many people know, there are many other substances such as many of the refrigerant gases that are used in many AC or HVAC systems that also contribute to Global Warming. Because these are not naturally occurring and the amounts vented are very high, damage to the ozone layer happens as these fluorinated gases degrade into different chemical compounds. How do HCFC refrigerants like R-22 harm the Earth's Ozone layer.

When refrigerants escape and drift up into the atmosphere, they go through chemical changes which react to the ultraviolet (UV) sunlight. This disintegrates the CFC molecules and rids the molecule of its chlorine atom. The released chlorine atom the reacts with the ozone (O3) chemical in the upper atmosphere. The chlorine atom causes a chemical reaction that changes oxygen (O3) to oxygen (O2). The reduced oxygen molecule is not as efficient as ozone at filtering out ultra violet radiation. This allows the strong and dangerous ultraviolet (UV) radiation to come through the atmospheric layers and down to the earth. For this reason as well as the greenhouse warming caused by some refrigerant gases, it is important that refrigerant gases are contained and not allowed to escape into the atmosphere.

Regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitor manufacturing plants and commercial or industrial buildings and the related AC or HVAC systems they contain to make sure the refrigerant gases are not escaping into the atmosphere. Many systems, especially those over 2,000 pounds of refrigerant, are equipped with a gas monitors and auto detection technology to assure the accuracy of the system and its integrity to contain the refrigerants.

Compliance regulations make businesses monitor for system leaks and require repair of any damaged AC or HVAC systems within 14 days. Service maintenance verification is required in addition to detailed service records of all refrigerant usage. All records must be maintained for up to 5 years.

The European Union has been at the top of the list for regulating greenhouse gases and refrigerants. Regular inspections of AC/HVAC systems are made to monitor for leakages. As with the US EPA, inspectors check records for recovery systems. Refrigerants must be recovered in closed systems so that the gases don't escape into the atmosphere.

The EPA will issue fines to commercial facilities that violate the regulations or are not complying with refrigerant tracking and monitory reporting. In the early 1990s, Section 608 of the U.S Clean Air Acted certification is required for HVAC technicians to fix or maintain systems or to buy more than 20 pounds of refrigerants to recharge the systems.

The US Clean Air Act is a regulation that spells out the EPA's role in air quality, especially in protecting the ozone layer and the tracking and reporting of Greenhouse Gases. The U.S. Clean Air Act is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the US government. The Clean Air Act has had changes made in the 1990s and again in 2008 that are more stringent than when it was first written over a decade ago.

New legislation being writing and being passed in early 2009 and 2010 will further restrict refrigerant gas usage, reporting, and phase out of damaging HCFCs. With continued tracking of carbon emissions and the pending mandatory reporting of carbon, organizations of all sizes maintaining refrigeration systems with more than 50 pounds of refrigerant gas will need to maintain detailed service records.

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Daniel Stouffer is a Product Manager for Refrigerant Tracker. This web-based software makes it easy to monitor, manage, and report refrigerant usage. Stay in compliance with government regulations. Learn about Verisae's Refrigerant Tracker at --

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