- By:

Courtesy of IHS Markit

Refrigerant management requirements are likely to become even stricter. Are you and your customers ready?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new rules and record-keeping requirements that add to those already in effect concerning servicing, maintaining, repairing, or disposing of air conditioning or refrigeration equipment (Section 608 of the Clean Air Act).

The EPA now requires all owners/operators of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment containing more than 50 lbs. of refrigerant to establish and maintain detailed records of all refrigerant usage and any service work performed, even if contractors are used.

Under the proposed rules, allowable refrigerant leak rates will become more stringent on systems installed after 1992. Additionally, the EPA proposes, In general, owners must either repair leaks within 30 days from the date the leak was discovered or develop a dated retrofit-retirement plan within 39 days and complete actions under that plan within one year from the plan's date. However, for industrial process chillers additional time may be available.

If, after the new rules take effect, owners choose to retrofit or retire a leaking process chiller, a plan must be developed within 30 days of detecting the leak, and a copy of the plan must be kept on site.

Industrial process refrigeration is common in chemical, pharmaceutical, petrochemical, and manufacturing industries. When systems such as these go down, production losses can be staggering - exceeding even the replacement cost of the refrigeration system.

Industrial engineers know well the importance of maintaining critical process chillers. Once these new rules take effect, industrial process chiller owners will have additional reasons for practicing more frequent chiller inspections in addition to routine preventive maintenance. The regulatory compliance burden will increase as well.

The Penalties of Noncompliance
The gravity of a violation is determined by examining the potential environmental harm, the risk of (or actual) refrigerant loss and the extent of deviation from the regulations. In addition, other factors not directly related to the violation can affect the penalty assessment. These include good faith efforts to comply, previous violations, and/or payment of any previously assessed penalties for earlier violations.

Today, surprise inspections are conducted routinely by the EPA to determine noncompliance. Failure to comply can result in fines up to $27,500 per day per violation. Submission of false or misleading information may result in criminal penalties, including imprisonment.

Preparing for an EPA Inspection
You needn't wait for the new rules to be implemented - planning and preparing for enforcement inspections and helping your customers prepare for a possible EPA visit is essential now.

Review the EPA Final Rule Summary to ensure that yours or your customer's facility adheres to the current refrigerant regulations. Get a copy of the EPA Section 114A letter, which details some of the records the EPA may ask for. Keep in mind, records must be made available to the EPA for inspection upon request.

If an EPA inspection is scheduled or anticipated, try to determine beforehand the purpose, scope and specific objectives of it.If a customer has operating personnel, form a team of people knowledgeable in the area of concern. This team should review refrigerant-related environmental activities at the facility, look for non-compliant conditions and correct any deficiencies as quickly as possible.

During the inspection, obtain a copy of the EPA's internal checklist and examine it for topics that apply to the facility. In most cases, the inspectors can provide a copy of this questionnaire.

If you don't already have the information, ask the inspectors to explain the purpose, scope, and objectives of the inspection and give them a briefing on the current state of compliance.

The Inspection
There are three parts to the EPA inspection:

1. Staff interviews. The inspectors want to know the team's job descriptions, how well-trained and qualified they are, and how well they understand the environmental regulations

2. Facility tour. Inspectors use the facility tour to get an impression of compliance and to determine where they should concentrate their efforts.

3. Records review. Review all records beforehand and be prepared to submit copies to the inspectors when they request them.

After the staff interviews, records review, and facility tour, inspectors will conduct a closing meeting to review their findings. Make note of the findings, and if possible, offer to make on-the-spot corrections. Try to settle all questions with the inspectors at this time. If there's a disagreement with a finding, challenge the finding, not the inspector or the regulation.

Confirm any deadlines set by the inspector for correcting deficiencies. Expect a follow-up visit if there were any deficiencies to be corrected.

Achieving Compliance
To comply with the law concerning refrigerant management, every company should designate an individual responsible for compliance. The EPA recommends that every company designate a facility refrigerant manager and implement a refrigerant management plan. The refrigerant manager should have clear authority and the necessary budget to implement an appropriate refrigerant management plan.

S<System Types Current Rate PPre-1992 11992 or Later
Industrial Process Refrigeratration 35% 35% 20%
Comfort Cooling 15% 10% 10%

Principle duties of the facility refrigerant manager should be to:

  • -- Coordinate purchases and maintain records of refrigerant inventories and usage.
  • -- Gather and disseminate information on refrigerant technology, codes, and EPA regulations.
  • -- Maintain and monitor contracts with refrigerant suppliers.
  • -- Plan for future needs for refrigerants and equipment.
  • -- Ensure compliance with all rules and regulations.
  • -- Provide input to the budget planning process.
  • -- Ensure the safety of personnel in contact with refrigerants.

The facility refrigerant manager should have the authority to procure:

  • -- Equipment and services required to comply with regulations.
  • -- Training for technicians.
  • -- Disposal services and/or transportation of refrigerants.
  • -- Safety equipment.

The facility refrigerant manager develops specific administrative controls over refrigerant management, disposal, equipment repairs and maintenance, and compliance to all federal, state and local regulations.

You or your customer should implement additional administrative controls including those associated with keeping records. A process must be defined to determine if the individual pieces of equipment with more than 50 lbs. of refrigerant are exceeding the allowable leak rate limit.

The EPA can require submission of detailed reports of refrigerant usage, service, maintenance, and disposal. A computerized refrigerant tracking and reporting program can help you effectively organize all refrigerant use and ensure compliance with EPA requirements.

Implementing Policy and Procedure
Implementing these policies and procedures requires company wide coordination, effective communication, and detailed training programs.

One method of assuring compliance and minimizing risks during an EPA inspection is to perform a refrigerant environmental survey. It will help evaluate and benchmark the current situation and assist in developing a new refrigerant management plan or improving an existing one.

The completed survey report should include:

  • An introduction, including a statement of purpose, a date of survey, and the facility's environmental history.
  • The scope of work encompassing the survey, its purpose and compliance areas.
  • The review of findings should be a brief overview of the company's operations and activities plus its environmental impact.
  • Recommendations and conclusions should include a critical review of facility operations and recommendations for improvements.

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