ACR-News
21 August 2009

Are our fridges safe?

SERIOUS questions are being asked about the safety of domestic fridges after a number of frightening explosions, have left a trail of devastation in homes across the UK

On Tuesday, the Yorkshire Post broke the story of Kathy Cullingworth of Normanton, West Yorkshire who was woken in the early hours of the morning by an explosion 'like a bomb'.

Although the incidences appear to be relatively rare, industry experts are pointing the finger of suspicion at the hydrocarbon refrigerants used in modern fridges.

On Tuesday, the Yorkshire Post broke the story of Kathy Cullingworth of Normanton, West Yorkshire who was woken in the early hours of the morning by an explosion 'like a bomb'. The source of the explosion was found to be the family's Creda fridge freezer. Luckily no one was injured but the explosion ripped a radiator from the wall, shattered windows, damaged cupboards and other kitchen appliances and cracked the ceiling and walls.

Investigations into the cause of the explosion are ongoing but the Cullingworth's case was not an isolated incident. In May of this year, a family in West Bromwich was woken by the sound of its fridge-freezer exploding 'like an earthquake', smashing windows and doors, blowing holes in the ceiling and ripping the roof off the conservatory. Again, no-one was hurt but this time the incident involved a four-year-old refrigerator, according to the local Express & Star newspaper.

In June 2006 in Newcastle, Ilene Callaghan was fortunate to be in her bathroom when the 18-moth-old fridge-freezer in her utility room exploded, blowing the wall out, the door off and lifting the floor. According to Mrs Callaghan's husband Dennis, the fire brigade said they suspected a build up of gas.

Also that year, the fire brigade was called to a house in Truro, Cornwall, after reports of a refrigerator explosion. The brigade reported that the explosion 'was probably due to a build-up of hydro carbon (sic) natural gas (refrigerator gas)'. Again, no one was injured.

The refrigerator manufacturers mentioned have promised to respond to ACR New's' requests for details of their investigations. These were ongoing at the time of going to press.

A spokesman for AMDEA (the Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Appliances) said that they were aware of the problem and that a new amendment to the safety standard is due to be published later this year.

The problem may involve the leakage of the flammable isobutane refrigerant gas into the interior of the fridge which is then ignited by an arc, possibly from the thermostat.

A similar effect could be caused by the householder storing flammable substances or aerosols with hydrocarbon propellants in the refrigerator or by using an aerosol cleaner on the interior.

Hydrocarbons were almost universally adopted by manufacturers after the phase-out of CFCs in the 90s.

While many in the industry preferred R134a, environmental groups and Greenpeace in particular, championed hydrocarbons as the natural alternative as they are non-ozone-depleting and non-global warming. Despite industry concerns as to its flammability, isobutane has become the standard domestic refrigerator gas and has become popular in certain plug-in commercial refrigerators. Only last month Waitrose announced that it was to use hydrocarbons in the refrigeration systems of all its new stores and refurbs.

Greenpeace developed Greenfreeze technology in 1992 utilising isobutane and propane as refrigerants and cyclopentane for producing the insulating foam. According to the environmental group, the technology is currently used in over 300 million refrigerators worldwide.

While these incidents involve fridges in the UK, ACR News is also investigating similar incidents in Europe and as far away as Iceland and South Africa.

ACRIB said it was monitoring the situation in association with all refrigeration manufacturers.

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