EPA's Final Rule Governing Substitutes for CFC-12 Refrigerant in MVACs
This final rule implements provisions set forth in section 609 of the Clean Air Act that require that automotive service technicians recycle substitutes for ozone-depleting refrigerants that are used in the servicing of motor vehicle air conditioners (MVACs). This rule, the full text of which was published in the Federal Register on December 30, 1997, (62 FR 68025) (32 pp, 351 KB) also clarifies how the Act applies to some MVAC service practices. Specific information on complying with this regulation is available in a fact sheet titled "Just the Facts."
Automotive Service Using Non-Ozone-Depleting Refrigerants
Under the Clean Air Act, releasing non-ozone-depleting refrigerants such as HFC-134a into the atmosphere has been prohibited since November 15, 1995. Section 609 of the Act requires EPA to promulgate standards for refrigerant recycling equipment and for the proper use of that equipment. The standards are effective as of January 29, 1998. Beginning at that time, any equipment used to recover or recycle HFC-134a from MVACs must meet EPA standards and be tested by an approved testing laboratory (UL or ETL). In addition, equipment that recovers, but does not recycle, one single, specific blend refrigerant must meet EPA standards and be tested by UL or ETL. Also, beginning on the effective date, automotive service technicians must be certified to handle non-ozone-depleting refrigerants.
Note that this regulation does not restrict the sale of HFC-134a or other non-ozone-depleting refrigerants. At this time, anyone may purchase these refrigerants, no matter what size container they come in (unless, of course, state or local regulations dictate otherwise).
In order to meet the specific requirements of the Clean Air Act, the final rule:
- establishes a standard for recover/recycle equipment that extracts and recycles HFC-134a refrigerant from MVACs;
- establishes a standard for recover-only equipment that extracts but does not recycle HFC-134a from MVACs;
- establishes a standard for recover-only equipment designed to extract a single, specific refrigerant other than CFC-12 and HFC-134a;
- establishes a standard for recover/recycle equipment that extracts and recycles both CFC-12 and HFC-134a using a common refrigerant circuit;
- defines the criteria by which independent standards testing organizations can apply to EPA to become approved to certify recover/recycle and recover-only equipment that is designed to service MVAC systems that use refrigerants other than CFC-12; and
- revises the criteria for EPA approval of technician training and certification programs to reflect the use of recover/recycle and recover-only equipment designed to service MVAC systems that use refrigerants other than CFC-12.
In addition, in this rule EPA describes its intention to grandfather automotive service technicians currently certified under section 609, so that they will not need to be recertified in order to operate recover/recycle and recover-only equipment designed to service MVAC systems that use refrigerants other than CFC-12.
Refrigerant Recovered from Motor Vehicle Disposal Facilities
Prior to this rule, EPA regulations have not addressed how refrigerant recovered from a motor vehicle located at a salvage yard, scrap recycling facility, landfill or other motor vehicle disposal facility may be reused after it is recovered. Many service technicians and motor vehicle disposal facility operators have believed, incorrectly, that EPA requires that refrigerant removed from a motor vehicle bound for disposal must be sent to a reclaimer rather than recycled prior to reuse. The final rule contains provisions designed to clarify that motor vehicle disposal facility operators and certified automotive service technicians can, under certain conditions, recycle and resell refrigerants recovered from motor vehicles destined for disposal; at the same time, the provisions reiterate how current regulations effectively restrict these activities to ensure that refrigerant cross-contamination and the release of refrigerants into the atmosphere is minimized.
Specifically, the rule explicitly allows section 609 certified technicians who recover refrigerant (whether CFC-12 or a substitute) from motor vehicles located at disposal facilities to take the refrigerant off-site and recycle that refrigerant at their service facilities for reuse in other motor vehicles. In addition, owners or operators of motor vehicle disposal facilities are permitted to sell refrigerant recovered from such vehicles to section 609 certified technicians for re-use in MVACs. By promoting markets for used refrigerant recovered from these vehicles, the Agency hopes to provide incentives for the recovery and reuse of refrigerants. Note that these changes to not affect refrigerant recovered from home appliances, such as refrigerators, that are destined for disposal; refrigerant from these sources must still be sent to a reclaimer.
Mobile Recovery and Recycling
The final rule also explicitly allows and establishes conditions for mobile refrigerant recovery, an activity not previously addressed in Agency regulations. Specifically, EPA is permitting the transportation of recovery and recycling equipment from MVAC service facilities where they are usually stored and used, to other motor vehicle service locations (which would include auto body shops, farms, mines, and quarries) in order to perform refrigerant servicing, and to salvage facilities in order to recover refrigerant.
In the past, EPA verbally discouraged this activity in order to enhance refrigerant recovery by encouraging each service facility to obtain its own equipment and have its own employees certified under section 609, even if the facility only rarely performed air conditioning service. The Agency believes that this policy has not served to maximize refrigerant recovery, because many facilities that rarely perform air conditioning service, such as auto body shops and used car dealers, have preferred to vent refrigerant into the atmosphere rather than to purchase equipment and ensure that their technicians are trained and certified. The Agency believes that many of these facilities are willing, however, to contract with certified technicians from other service facilities who will then transport equipment to their location for refrigerant servicing. Allowing this mobile service should therefore enhance refrigerant recovery. The Agency also believes that permitting service technicians to transport equipment to motor vehicle disposal facilities in order to recover refrigerants will serve to provide a source of used refrigerant and will reduce refrigerant venting.
Other Service Practices
The final rule also clarifies two existing provisions in the section 609 regulations. First, the rule explains that quick-lubes and other facilities that charge refrigerant into vehicles but do not perform any other kind of refrigerant servicing or repair (i.e., facilities that "top off" only) are considered to be performing service involving refrigerant, and are therefore subject to all the requirements of the section 609 regulations, including the requirement that they must purchase approved equipment.
Finally, the rule makes more clear that technicians must recycle refrigerant prior to recharging it into a vehicle, even if the vehicle is the same vehicle from which the refrigerant was extracted.