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October 27, 2016
The what and when of revised refrigerant regulations
By Timothy P Fagan, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently finalized broad changes to its refrigerant management regulations under 40 CFR 82.  Those owning, operating, maintaining, servicing, repairing, or disposing of air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment will all be impacted by these revisions. 

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The most significant change extends the regulations for ozone-depleting refrigerants to non-ozone- depleting substitutes through an amendment to the definition of “refrigerant.”  The revised definition of refrigerant includes any Class I or Class II ozone-depleting substances (ODS) refrigerants or any substitute for such refrigerants.

This revised definition of refrigerant was primarily meant to address emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).  HFCs are widely used refrigerants that were introduced as substitutes for ODS refrigerants, but they are also potent greenhouse gases with global warming potentials much greater than carbon dioxide.  The reduction of HFC emissions are part of the effort to reduce carbon pollution in the United States, as outlined in President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan.

What and when?

The revised regulations are effective January 1, 2017.  However, in some instances, the EPA has delayed application of the new requirements to the revised definition of refrigerant.  Below, we’ll review some of the significant changes to the refrigerant management regulations as they apply to facilities and technicians and the dates at which the requirements are extended to substitute refrigerants

2017

Sales restrictions.  Beginning on January 1, 2017, used refrigerant, under the revised definition, may not be resold unless it has been reclaimed by a certified reclaimer or is being charged into equipment belonging to the same owner. 

2018

Evacuating refrigerants.  Beginning on January 1, 2018, technicians evacuating refrigerant, under the revised definition, from appliances with a full charge of more than 5 but less than 50 pounds (lbs) of refrigerant must maintain records related to the quantity and type of recovered refrigerant for a period of 3 years.

Sales restrictions.  Beginning on January 1, 2018, the sale of refrigerants under the revised definition is limited to certified technicians.

2019

Beginning on January 1, 2019, new requirements for appliance maintenance and leak repair go into effect.  The new requirements apply only to appliances with a full charge of 50 lbs or more of refrigerant under the revised definition.

Lower the leak rate thresholds.   Appliances leaking refrigerant above the following leak rates trigger requirements for repair, retrofit, or retirement:

  • 20 percent for commercial refrigeration equipment;
  • 30 percent for industrial process refrigeration equipment; or
  • 10 percent for comfort cooling.

Leak rates are expressed in terms of the percentage of the appliance’s full charge that would be lost over a 12-month period if the current rate of loss were to continue over that period.  Leak rates must be calculated every time refrigerant is added to an appliance.

Leak inspections.  Appliances must be continuously monitored by an automatic leak detection system, or appliances exceeding the leak rate thresholds must be inspected by a certified technician according to the following schedule:

  • Commercial and industrial process refrigeration appliances with a full charge of 500 lbs or more: once every 3 months;
  • Commercial and industrial process refrigeration appliances with a full charge of 50 lbs or more but less than 500 lbs: once per calendar year; or
  • Comfort cooling appliances: once per calendar year

Chronically leaking appliances.  Appliances that leak more than 125 percent of the full charge in a calendar year must submit a report to the EPA by March 1 of the following year.  The report must describe efforts taken to identify and repair the leak.

Compliance going forward

The aforementioned requirements are just a few of the broad revisions finalized by the EPA.  Facilities and technicians must carefully review all of the changes to ensure they maintain compliance with all of the applicable provisions of the revised regulations.  However, keep in mind that before the dates on which the revisions become applicable to the revised definition of refrigerant, many of the requirements apply only to Class I or Class II ODSs used as refrigerants (i.e., the old definition of refrigerant).

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