Manufacturers respond to reports of HCFC smuggling
September 13, 2012
The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) president and CEO Stephen Yurek has responded to what he termed “several inaccuracies” in a September 8, 2012, article in the New York Times on smuggling, primarily from China, of hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerant (typically referred to as R-22 or HCFC-22). The purpose of the article was to shed light on the issue of refrigerant smuggling from developing nations, where such refrigerants are plentiful and cheap, to the United States and other areas of the world, where restrictions stemming from the implementation of the Montreal Protocol make them less abundant, and thus more expensive. Rather than focusing on ways law enforcement might combat illegal importation of R-22, however, the article laid the blame at the feet of air conditioner manufacturers, attributing demand for R-22 “to the reluctance of manufacturers to step up development of more environmentally friendly machines.” Not only have manufacturers developed refrigerant-using equipment such as central air conditioners and heat pumps that are more than twice as efficient as those meeting the federal minimum standard that existed in 2005, Yurek said, but all U.S. manufacturers had equipment available in the market that used non-ozone depleting refrigerants for over a decade before the January 2010 phase-out of R-22 required by the Montreal Protocol and implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“The EPA rules governing the latest major step in the Montreal Protocol phase out of R-22 were not released until mere weeks before they were to go into effect,” Yurek explained. “Even so,” he said, “our manufacturers had already prepared to cease producing all R-22 units by the deadline.” However, in a shock to the industry, the EPA rules did not contain a complete ban on the manufacturing of new equipment using R-22, but allowed continued production of R-22 equipment, as long as it was not charged with R-22 until installed in the field. AHRI and its members immediately petitioned EPA to remove this provision and ban the manufacture of new equipment using R-22. EPA has yet to act on this request and the provision remains.
“Therefore, the New York Times article’s implication that manufacturers are to blame is wrong and misdirected. There are thousands of products available in the market that contain non-ozone depleting refrigerants at efficiency levels at and significantly higher than the federal minimums. The demand for R-22 equipment cannot be laid at the feet of manufacturers,” Yurek said. “If the EPA rules had been released in a timely manner and if the EPA had banned the manufacture of new equipment using R-22 as everyone intended and expected, this situation would not exist today,” Yurek added.
Finally, Yurek decried the article’s implication that manufacturers violate U.S. law to ensure greater access to R-22. “It is outrageous for the New York Times to suggest, without a shred of evidence, that manufacturers are in any way involved with the use of smuggled refrigerants,” he said. “Our member companies have always strictly abided by U.S. law and will continue to do so. Any allegation to the contrary is completely without merit,” he added.