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AREA survey finds widespread awareness of illegal refrigerant trading

Contractors’ association calls for new controls and penalties to address concerns over the effectiveness of existing F-Gas enforcement across the EU in response to member survey

A new survey of members of the European contractors’ association AREA has revealed that a majority of respondents are aware of the illegal trade of refrigerant that infringes regulations intended to curb use of higher GWP products.

Over 80 per cent of respondents to the internal survey, which took into account the experience of 18 members associations across 12 European countries, said they had been made aware of the trading of HFC gas that is currently being phased out of the market through F-Gas regulations.

Release of the findings builds on recentconcerns raised within the European industry from a number of trade bodies over the current effectiveness of government efforts to enforce the EU F-Gas regulation, as well as the challenge of monitoring online sales.

AREA has said that the latest survey findings showed that 50 per cent of respondents had witnessed a decrease in the availability of R134A. Over 60 per cent of those responding to the same survey said they had experienced reduced availability of products such as R507A, R410A and R404A.

The association added, “Low GWP refrigerants, on the other hand, seem to show no shortage. These trends are of course to be linked to the quotas from F-Gas regulation HFC phase-down scheme. However, they become more of a concern when put into perspective with illegal trade.”

It was in this current market that over three quarters of the survey respondents were aware of some of these higher GWP products being illegally traded. In the case of R134a, 90 per cent of those surveyed said they were aware of an illegal trade in the gas.

AREA said that the low flammability, low GWP gas R32 was not affected as a point of comparison.

The association added that illegal trade in refrigerant was most significant in EU border countries, with an escalation in cases since the start of 2018.

AREA said in a statement, “Reports of refrigerant theft are also increasing too, though again, not all countries are equally exposed. The percentages of awareness remain more modest between 40 per cent and 50 per cent depending on the type of refrigerant.”

The association said that national authorities were presently viewed by survey respondents as lacking the necessary expertise and resources to take action over this illegal refrigerant trade.

AREA has therefore called for more controls and higher penalties to be introduced to try and restrict infringement of F-Gas regulations. These initiatives should be backed by an improved awareness campaign among end users of refrigerant, as well as increased cooperation with customs in order to try and address internet sales of gas that are much more difficult to regulate.

The association added, “Remaining supportive of the F-Gas Regulation, and in line with the message recently given on illegal trade of refrigerants, AREA and its members intend to continue working with European and national authorities to achieve a better enforcement.”

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