We have good EU F-Gas regulations, now we need good regulating
Thursday, October 04, 2018
At RAC’s recent Cooling Industry Awards, I ended my speech on a bit of a call to arms. The gist of it is that we as an industry deserve the respect of having our F-Gas regulations properly enforced.
I am sure you don’t need me to remind you, as I seem to have been writing about it for months, that the EU’s F-Gas regulatory regime has proved quite a tough prospect for the industry, with its combination of HFC phasedown and bans intended to drive the market towards lower-GWP options at quite a pace.
But the problem, as it has transpired in recent weeks, is that the enforcement of these rules has been much less prominent — if it has happened at all.
Last month there were urgent calls from the Greek refrigeration industry to both their own national authorities and the European Commission to do something to stop the flow of non-compliant refrigerant.
The Greek industry has identified refrigerant coming in from countries such as Albania, Macedonia, Turkey and Bulgaria.
The Greek firms say that the refrigerant is being imported in a variety of ways including on commercial trucks amongst other freight; on refrigerated trucks with hidden containers; on buses with refrigerant hidden in the luggage area; on boats and even in passenger cars. The manufacturers say that the ever-widening number of methods depends only on the imagination and means of the smugglers.
They say that the gas, either imported with counterfeit documentation or carried in illegal disposable cylinders, is costing Greece at least €20 million in lost taxes, as well as making a mockery of the system of bans and reducing quotas which the rest of Europe is adhering to. They called for proper enforcement at customs, along with appropriate training for inspectors to identify counterfeit refrigerant.
But that’s not the half of it. Here in the UK, there is much frustration from the industry and its representative associations at two areas where enforcement is not working. The first are the online auction sites where refrigerant can be purchased without having to provide proof of F-Gas registration, which is illegal under the terms of the F-Gas regulations.
While auction sites have undertaken to provide a verification step before purchase, representative bodies say this is not happening consistently.
UK certification body Refcom, which has been investigating the process, says that while sites act when a seller is reported, it needs a firmer hand from the regulatory authorities — which in the U.K. is the Environment Agency.
There is particular concern that non-compliant gas is being made available online, such as in disposable cylinders, illegal since the original F-Gas legislation in 2006. On top of that, there is widespread concern that the gas is counterfeit and the contents is not what is claimed on its label.
Refcom head Graeme Fox has told us that in his opinion the Environment Agency is “burying its head in the sand” over regulation of online sales. He said last week: “We stand ready to support the EA in improving the lot of a responsible cooling sector who continue to be let down by the current situation.”
But at the same time, there is a potentially worse problem in Europe in that it is still possible for a member of the public to buy flammable hydrocarbon refrigerant in DIY and auto stores — because it is sold as an auto AC top-up canister.
This is a loophole in the U.K. that the industry complained to government about in the latest revision of the F-Gas regulations five years ago, to no avail, but now the situation has been thrown into the global spotlight by a ruling from an Australian coroner’s court this month.
The report concerns the death in 2014 of two men, killed after hydrocarbon refrigerant was ignited during removal of a leaking compressor from a pub cellar. The court found that they had topped up the compressor with hydrocarbon, even though the compressor was not designed for the flammable refrigerant. The leaking refrigerant was ignited by one of the men’s cigarette lighter.
Industry body FETA says it has written to the Environment Agency, in light of the Australian coroner’s report, urgently seeking action. Currently it is believed that the Trading Standards authorities are looking into the supply of such top-up kits in the U.K.
But the Victoria Coroners Court ruled that the men’s deaths were preventable. State coroner Paresa Spanos issued a strong warning:“Their deaths highlight the dangers of unqualified people doing work that requires qualifications or, at least, a solid understanding of the substances and risks involved.”
She warned of an increasing safety risk, as lower-flammability refrigerants such as R32 and HFO blends are introduced, alongside hydrocarbons, given the relative lack of experience in Australia with flammables.
Given the problem is being experienced Europe-wide, there are calls for more commitment from the EU to enforcement. interest in bringing a tougher approach to regulating F-Gas across the EU. Contractors’ association AREA reports problems occurring across a number of its members’ borders.
My contention, as I told the Cooling Awards audience is that our industry deserves the respect of having its rules properly enforced. As well as the obvious safety issues presented by the availability of hydrocarbons, the lack of regulation online isn’t fair on all those companies, the vast majority, who do comply — because compliance is expensive. I think the cooling industry deserves regulations with teeth!
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