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Auto Body Shops Pollution Prevention Guide

#14 - Used Refrigerants

Refrigerants containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), such as CFC-12, are suspected of contributing to the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer. The stratospheric ozone layer acts as a blanket in the stratosphere that protects the planet from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. For this reason, CFC-containing refrigerant production has been phased out. The release of refrigerants during the servicing of air conditioners is also prohibited. Service shops must use refrigerant recycling equipment to work on vehicle air conditioners.

To help protect the environment:

  • Service motor vehicle air conditions appropriately
  • Use a less hazardous alternative

Servicing Motor Vehicle Air Conditioners

To help prevent the release of CFC-containing refrigerants and their less hazardous substitutes into the environment during air conditioning servicing:

  • Use United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved refrigerant reclaiming units.
  • Technicians repairing or servicing air conditioning systems must be trained and certified by an EPA-approved organization to use approved equipment.
  • Check for and repair leaks in air conditioning systems prior to recharging.
  • Recover the used refrigerant and recycle it on-site or ship it to an off-site reclamation facility.

Alternative Refrigerants

There are a number of viable substitutes for CFC-12 refrigerants, such as HFC-134a (hydrofluorcarbon), on the market today. Note that other than HFC-134a, all EPA-accepted refrigerant substitutes are blends that contain ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC), such as R-22. Review the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) of the alternative you are interested in -- avoid it if it contains CFCs or HCFC.

Before switching over to an alternative refrigerant, make sure it is an EPA-approved refrigerant and has been approved by the vehicle or air conditioner or manufacturer. You will probably have to modify the vehicle's air conditioning system before you can use an alternative refrigerant. If you have CFC-12 recovery and/or recycling equipment, you will also have to convert the equipment to handle the substitute refrigerant.

The following series of questions will help you develop ways of preventing pollution in used refrigerant management:

Used Refrigerants YES NO
1) Do you provide air conditioning service? If so, you should be EPA-trained to use EPA-approved recovery and/or recycling equipment in order to reduce the possibility of a refrigerant release.    
2) Do you keep different types of refrigerants separate? Do not mix refrigerants. The newer alternative refrigerants are not compatible with the older refrigerants and equipment. Commingling refrigerants could render the system inoperable    
3) Are air conditioning systems first checked for leaks before recharging? It has never been good business practice to add coolant to a leaking air conditioning system. Deny requests for refrigerant recharging if customers will not allow you to check their vehicle's cooling system.    
4) Do you recover and/or recycle spent refrigerants? Widespread refrigerant recycling reduces the demand for virgin CFC-12 and thus extends the time that it will be available. There are EPA-approved recovery and recycling (removes and recycles) and recovery-only (removes and stores) equipment available.    
5) Do you keep records of any air conditioning services done in your shop? Auto body shops must certify to EPA that they own approved equipment. If refrigerant is recovered and sent to a reclamation facility, the name and address of that facility must be retained.    
6) Are you prepared to use the alternative refrigerants? Most new cars come with HFC-134a. However, before older cars can be retrofitted to use substitutes, check with the vehicle or air conditioner manufacturer.    
7) Do you dispose of your used coolant recycler filters as hazardous waste? Prior to disposal, contact your supplier to see if used filters are recyclable in your area. If not, they must be disposed of properly. If they prove to be hazardous, they must be disposed as a hazardous waste. If they are non-hazardous, they can be dried and landfilled with the approval of your local solid waste authority.    
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