Locking caps are being fitted on home air conditioning systems to deter young people from inhaling the refrigerant through the service valve.
The resulting ingestion can cause death or brain damage, reports the Midlothian Exchange in the US.
To address the growing problem, a new change in the Virginia building code took effect March 1 requiring all new home construction to have refrigerant locking caps on HVAC systems.
Sharyl Adams, a substance abuse prevention specialist with Chesterfield County, said: “Most homeowners are unaware that the refrigerant in their air-conditioning units contains highly toxic chemicals that are extremely dangerous when inhaled in concentrated form and that the refrigerant is easily accessed through the service valve.
“They don’t realize that their unit may be an attractive target to an adolescent looking for a free high.”
To tackle that problem, Substance Abuse Free Environment Inc., a nonprofit coalition better known as SAFE, has partnered with heating and air-conditioning companies to install locking caps on air-conditioning units free of charge through the end of April. Participating companies are listed on the SAFE website.
Dominion Service Company and James River Air Conditioning were the first companies to endorse this initiative. This is the only communitywide effort of its kind in the country.
“The installation of locking caps on the service valves of air-conditioning units serves as a perfect example of an environmental prevention strategy that brings parents and other adults together in the common cause of creating a safer and healthier community,” said Wayne Frith, executive director of SAFE. “If we adults consistently demonstrate through action that we truly care about the decisions young people make regarding substance abuse, we will see youths making more positive decisions.”