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DIY top-ups under fire in the US and Canada

A coalition of US green groups is bidding to get the US environment agency the EPA  to get refrigerant ‘top-up’ cans outlawed, by restricting sales of refrigerant to qualified technicians only.

The groups are concerned that car enthusiasts will attempt to top up with cans of cheaper R134a when HFO 1234yf is brought in  as standard for cars, causing damage to the environment – and their cars.

At the same time, refrigeration bodies in Canada have warned  of the fire risks to consumers using canned hydrocarbon refrigerant to top up domestic  and commercial air conditioning systems.

Canadian industry body  HRAI (Heating, Refrigeration  and Air conditioning Institute) warned “The use of a flammable refrigerant in the home can create a serious fire and explosion risk.”

The US green groups say that use of top-up cans result in  more refrigerant being lost to the atmosphere, as the public won’t observe recovery protocols and are unlikely to try to stop the original leaks.

The US groups say the fact that HFO 1234yf is expected to cost five times as much as R134a “will be an incentive to switch back to HFC 134a the first time the vehicle is serviced, with a consequence of higher subsequent greenhouse gas emissions”.

The recharge with HFC 134a of vehicles designed for HFC1234yf would also increase the frequency of refrigerant contamination when these vehicles are later serviced, they noted.

For these reasons, the groups are petitioning the EPA “to restrict the sales of all refrigerants to certified technicians with access  to service equipment required by EPA regulations”.

HRAI also warned of the environmental consequences, noting that while there are currently no specific regulations regarding hydrocarbon refrigerants in Canada, provincial regulations require any removal of HFCs to be undertaken by a qualified technician.

In addition to the fire and environmental risk, use of DIY hydrocarbon top-ups would invalidate air conditioning warranties, HRAI said, and  if any HFCs remained in the system it would be illegal  under Canadian refrigerant compliance rules.

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