Published on 30 - July - 2012
Fake refrigerants: we should be very concerned
BANGKOK: The world should be very concerned about the dangers of counterfeit refrigerants. This is the overriding message to come out of a roundtable discussion during the 32nd Open-ended Working Group Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol in Bangkok last week.
Under the topic of "Fake Refrigerant: Should We Worry?" experts from around the world discussed the proliferation of counterfeit refrigerants, in particular the dangerous presence of methyl chloride (R40) in some of these cocktails.
While the four explosions and three deaths in reefer explosions attributed to fake R134a last year have been well publicised, discussions revealed that there had been a fifth explosion in south China in December and unconfirmed reports of a recent air conditioning explosion in Brazil resulting in two further deaths.
Mark Bennett, senior vice president of Triton Containers, revealed that following investigations into last year's explosions, it is now thought that pure R40, disguised as R134a, had been introduced into these systems. This then reacted with R134a being added to or circulated within the system, creating a massive hydrogen fluoride reaction and causing the compressor to explode.
Following the explosions, a total of 1,181 containers serviced at the two terminals between January and September last year were quarantined. These are now being tested for contamination. While the tests are ongoing, 18% are said to have indicated some chloride contamination and 6% are reported to have contained a "significant quantity" of R40. Seven shipping lines were affected.
He emphasised that the counterfeit refrigerant problem was not confined to Vietnam and that contaminated refrigerant had turned up in south east Asia, Africa, southern Europe and central and south America.
"Vietnam has been very proactive in taking action," he said.
Certainly, the reefer industry has a considerable problem. There are estimated to be 1,300,000 reefers worldwide, each containing 4-5kg of, normally, R134a. It is estimated that around 5,000 containers have been tested for contamination so far and around 10-15% of the world fleet may be contaminated.
The counterfeit market has been encouraged by price spikes in the worldwide cost of R134a in 2010 and the apparent glut of HCFCs as a result of the phase-out in developed countries. Mark Bennett provided anecdotal evidence of service companies in South America being offered four differing grades of R134a at different prices." The cheapest," he said contained just 40% of R134a."
He also warned that certificates of authentication were as easily faked as refrigerant bottles.
Publicity of the dangers is vital. "We need to publicise the prevalence of fake refrigerants to increase awareness of the dangers to users," he maintained.
Michael Bennett of Refrigerant Reclaim Australia, a company which recently revealed it had found traces of methyl chloride in returned cylinders, suggested that we should all be very worried about the proliferation of counterfeits.
It was generally thought that countries, such as those in Europe where refillable cylinders are banned, were less likely to encounter contaminated refrigerants.
"There is a greater risk of acquiring counterfeits in disposables than in returnable or multi-use cylinders," said Michael Bennett. "Opportunities still exist but it is much more unlikely."
However, Kakuto Nagatani-Yoshida, policy and enforcement officer at UNEP OzonAction , maintained it depended on the region. She pointed to the Middle East where there were instances of counterfeits being brought in bulk isotanks and being repackaged using counterfeit cylinders and packaging.
Michael Bennett also revealed details of an incident of R40 turning up in packaged refrigeration units. Although not naming the company, he is thought to have been referring to the product recall enacted by Australian company Heatcraft in April when methyl chloride was found in certain models of its Kirby packaged refrigeration units.
Investigations by the company in the factory in China, where the units were manufactured, traced the counterfeits to one pallet of disposable cylinders. The counterfeit cocktail mimicked the characteristics of R134a so was not detected in factory tests. All the affected units had failed within three months and exhibited heavy corrosion of aluminium components.
Refrigerant Reclaim Australia carried out 40 separate recovery operations, recovering 100kg of counterfeit refrigerant. Following this the recovery unit was dismantled and inspected and showed no discernible damage.
|Get all the week’s industry news and jobs direct to your inbox: click here to receive the free ACR-News.com weekly newsletter.|