COMPANIES have been warned to only purchase refrigerants from authorised and reputable suppliers as evidence mounts that highly dangerous fake refrigerants are a far greater problem and more widespread than many realise.
The recent fatal incidents involving refrigerated cargo containers are far from unique and similar incidents have already hit Europe. There have been previous deaths and the problems aren't restricted to R134a systems or to mobile applications.
Leading German independent research company ILK Dresden has been researching incidents with methyl chloride, or R40, since 2009 when it was called in to investigate a case involving mobile air conditioning systems in Greece. Since then the company has been involved in a number of investigations involving R22/R40 cocktails turning up in both stationary and mobile systems.
Ulrich Grimm, head of group new technologies/materials at ILK Dresden, declined to be drawn into specific details for reasons of client confidentiality, but warned: 'This is a serious problem'.
Although not involved in the current reefer explosion investigations, Ulrich Grimm revealed that his company had been called in to look at four other new cases recently, one particularly serious and on-going. 'I am expecting to see an increasing situation over the next month,' he said.
All systems can be affected but it is particularly bad and aggressive in systems running with synthetic POE oil. All elastomeric parts, seals and hoses are attacked and there will probably be no chance to save the compressor. 'In systems using POE oils, the contaminated refrigerant takes less than a week to destroy everything.'
In car air conditioning systems a leak could be particularly dangerous for the vehicle occupants.
Even when used inadvertently to top-up a system, as little as 2% can become a problem.
Being suspicious of unusually cheap refrigerant and only buying from a reputable refrigerant supplier who can provide evidence of its quality is vitally important.
And taking the refrigerant at face value is no guarantee. Ulrich Grimm has seen the fake refrigerant sold in an R134a bottle with 'the colours and logo of one of the big refrigerant manufacturers'. This is borne out by warnings from DuPont in 2009 to customers in the Middle East over the prevalence of potentially dangerous counterfeits of R22 and R134a bearing DuPont brands and markings.