Is black market refrigerant a thing? It is now, thanks to demand for a refrigeration chemical which has not been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The U.S. is currently in the process of phasing out a chemical known as R-22, which was used across the country as a refrigerant for refrigerators and air conditioners for many years. It was only recently that research determined that R-22 destroys the earth’s ozone layer, and for this reason it was banned for use by an international treaty.
The phaseout, not surprisingly, caused the price of any remaining R-22 to skyrocket, making it expensive to fix the older air conditioners that still require it. Consequently, many unapproved replacements have started to enter the market. These products, given names like “Super Freeze 22a,” are not on the EPA’s approved list of refrigerants.
These unapproved refrigerants, which are often sold online in order to circumvent regulators and stores, aren’t just bad for the environment — they can also be potentially dangerous to the homeowners who install them. These substitutes sometimes contain propane, which is flammable and has the potential to catch fire or explode. The FBI has already begun an investigation into the sales of these refrigerants.
The EPA has declined to say approximately how many people and businesses have been victims to this scam, though they say they are aware of multiple cases worldwide where people have been injured after attempting to use these refrigerants in their air conditioners.
How can consumers avoid these potentially dangerous substitutes? Industry experts recommend that consumers only work with contractors who are licensed, and that they should specify they want the refrigerant made specifically for their AC.