State Fire Marshal Warns Against Use of Flammable, Unapproved Refrigerants in Home Air Conditioning Systems; Potential fire or explosion risk for homeowners

Contact: Melanie Brown 517-373-9280
Agency: Licensing and Regulatory Affairs

August 14, 2013 - State Fire Marshal Richard Miller today warns homeowners, propane manufacturers and sellers, home improvement contractors and air conditioning technicians of potential safety hazards related to the use of propane or other unapproved refrigerants in home air conditioning systems.

“Home air conditioning systems are not designed to handle propane or other similar flammable refrigerants,” said Miller. “The use of these substances poses a potential fire or explosion hazard for homeowners and service technicians.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently investigating instances where propane has been marketed and used as a substitute for HCFC-22 (R-22), a refrigerant that is widely used in home air conditioning systems. Names for these unapproved refrigerants include R-290, 22a, 22-A, R-22a, HC-22a, and CARE 40.  Incidents have occurred where individuals have been injured as a result of the use of propane and other unapproved refrigerants in air conditioning systems.

R-22a, also known as 22a Refrigerant, is a highly flammable colorless gas, heavier than air, and is composed of “liquefied petroleum gas” with its contents identified as propane. If enough R-22a is concentrated in one space, and the refrigerant comes in contact with an ignition source, it could burn or even explode. It is illegal to sell R-22a or other hydrocarbon refrigerants as they have not been approved by the EPA to be safe for use as a refrigerant in existing air conditioning equipment designed for use with HCFC-22 (R-22). The EPA will take enforcement action where appropriate.

“The greatest risk is to consumers and service technicians who may not be prepared for handling flammable refrigerants and are attempting to use flammables as a retrofit in equipment that was designed for nonflammable materials,” said Miller. “Flammable refrigerants can be safely used where equipment has been specifically designed to operate safely using them.”

According to Miller, homeowners and technicians should limit use of propane or other hydro-carbons to only those appliances specifically designed for these substances and that are properly marked to alert technicians that the equipment contains a flammable substance. The EPA has approved the use of propane as a substitute refrigerant for R-22 in industrial process refrigeration systems and in new, stand-alone retail food refrigerators and freezers that are specifically designed to use flammable hydrocarbon refrigerants.

R-22 is being phased out of production and importation under the Montreal Protocol, an environmental treaty ratified by every country in the world designed to reduce and eventually eliminate the use of ozone-depleting substances. The EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program has already listed numerous refrigerants with improved environmental, health safety profiles and continues to evaluate other refrigerants that can be used to replace R-22 and other ozone-depleting substances.

Click here for lists of acceptable refrigerants for different uses.
Click here for information about R-22a and alternatives for air conditioning.
Click here for more information about the EPA’s SNAP program.

To learn more about fire safety, go to the Bureau of Fire Services website.

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