The European-wide phased ban of R22 HCFC gas has important – and costly – implications for businesses that use the gas as part of their refrigeration and air conditioning equipment, as well as for facilities and building mangers, engineers, and landlords and tenants.

The phase-out

Since the late nineties there has been an increasing international focus upon placing bans on the use of harmful, ozone-depleting substances such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons).  HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) were temporarily allowed to remain, however following the signing of the Montreal Protocol and the introduction of the EU Ozone Regulation EC/1005/2009 (implemented in the UK by the Environmental Protection (Controls on Ozone-Depleting Substances) Regulations 2011) (the “CODS Regs”) , a duty has been placed upon all member states to gradually phase-out the use of all HCFCs.

The most common HCFC is R22, and is used across Europe in the use of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment (RAC equipment).  HCFCs such as R22 have been banned in their transitional forms since 2001, but since 1 January 2010 it is now illegal to use virgin (pure) forms of HCFCs in the servicing and maintenance of RAC equipment.  This includes the use of any stockpiled virgin HCFCs purchased before the ban date.  Reclaimed and recycled HFCCs may be used up until the next stage of the ban comes into force on 1 January 2015 – after which HCFCs will be phased out altogether and it will be illegal to use all forms of HCFC to service RAC equipment

Why the reminder now?

R22 remains one of the most widely-used HCFC gases by businesses in the UK, across a across a number of sectors including food and drink; retail; health; hospitality and leisure; petro-chemicals and pharmaceuticals – or any other industry which uses refrigeration or cooling techniques.  The ban therefore has important – and costly – implications for those businesses that face a wholesale replacement or conversion of their RAC equipment, as well as for facilities and building managers; engineers; and landlords and tenants – both in terms of maintenance and lease-end obligations.

The terms of the phase-out out have therefore been clarified:

No utilisation of HCFCs in any form in the production or maintenance (including refilling) of products or equipment post-1 January 2015

Specifically, there must be no maintenance or servicing that involves breaking into the refrigeration circuits of the equipment

The majority of RAC systems have a propensity to leak, and should therefore should be removed from operation altogether to avoid the need to carry out maintenance and servicing.

If replaced, new systems should comply with the EC F Gas Regulations, or use “natural” refrigerants such as ammonia or carbon dioxide.

If existing systems are to be converted (via “retro-fill” or “drop-in” insertion of EC compliant gas alternatives), this should be done by specialist contractors in order to minimise the risks of further refrigerant leakage [NB: conversion is only recommended for equipment that is less than 10 years old, and where conversion hasn’t already taken place].

What are the consequences of getting it wrong?

The CODS Regs set out a number offences available for breach of any of the duties imposed by the EU Ozone Regulation, including (although not limited to) the following:

Production of HCFCs (or other controlled substances);

Imports, exports and placing on the market of products or equipment containing or relying on HCFCs (or other controlled substances);

Recovery and destruction, or recycling and reclamation of HCFCs (or other controlled substances);

Precautionary measures to prevent and minimise leakages of HCFCs (or other controlled substances); and

Requirements for specified stationary equipment or systems, including record keeping by undertakings.

Persons found guilty of contravening the CODS Regs could face an unlimited fine in the Crown Court (or £5,000 per offence if dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court).  The Regulations are enforced by the Environment Agency and Local Authorities.  They also have the power to serve enforcement notices on organisations in an effort to remedy or avert a contravention of the legislation.

Other risks?

Those who use RAC equipment in the course of their business may also use water-based systems such as cooling towers, evaporative condensers or humidifiers.  Businesses operating such equipment should also therefore be reminded of the risks of Legionella, and take this opportunity to review what procedures are in place for monitoring, cleaning and disinfection of systems; their design and construction; and what treatment programmes are in place to control bacteria.

It has been suggested that the recent Legionnaire’s outbreak in Edinburgh, which has so far been confirmed to have affected 95 people, emanated from a group of industrial cooling towers in the city.  A local distillery and pharmaceutical manufacturer are amongst the organisations being investigated by the HSE.  Prosecutions could be brought against any organisations that are found to have failed to control the risk of Legionella, and thus breached their duties under health and safety legislation.