Industry Insight
21 October 2020

Preventing the Trade of Illegal Refrigerants

A-Gas Operations Director, Rob Parker, on how to identify illegal refrigerants and why it can be dangerous if these products are used.

The discovery of illegal refrigerants used by a firm in Derbyshire should be seen as a warning to the heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration industry that the importation and use of such products remains a criminal offence.

In mainland Europe, the seizure of 76 tonnes of illegal HFC refrigerant in Romania, thought to be the largest on the continent since the beginning of the F-Gas phase down, also reminds us that the trade in illegal refrigerants is still a big problem for our industry.

With the F-Gas Regulation phase down and concerns about product availability and uncertainty on price, the temptation among some to import illegal HFC refrigerants with a high global warming potential (GWP) into the UK has remained high.

Although the industry is working hard to reduce its carbon emissions and end its reliance on high GWP gases, the activity in illegal imports threatens small businesses and halts our progress to climate goals.

With mainline refrigerants, whether reclaimed HFCs or lower GWP alternatives, ensuring the quality of the refrigerant you are using remains key. Refrigerants that do not comply with the manufacturer’s specifications, or that are supplied in unapproved cylinders, can pose a serious risk to the health and safety of installers and end users.

The temptation for dishonest traders to consider smuggling illegal imports into Europe remains. Chinese imports are finding their way on to the European market through Russia and Eastern Europe and once here open borders can do little to halt their progress. However, across Europe a greater awareness of the problems caused by the illegal imports is emerging and buyers are realising that this is a risk not worth taking – especially with the current low price levels.

If you are an engineer or an end user, recognising how you can tell the difference between genuine product and an illegal import is key. As a rough guide, it is likely to be an illegal import if it is one or more of these:

  • Not returnable to the supplier
  • Supplied in a disposable container
  • Available in a small quantity
  • Has a date mark on the cylinder stamp that has expired
  • The price is very low and not in line with the market norm

If you are still unsure, asking for a certificate of origin is another way of checking that the product is genuine.

Reputable suppliers, like A-Gas, provide customers with peace of mind that the refrigerants they are using are genuine. Our in-house custom-built laboratory analyses all product upon receipt from our approved suppliers to ensure it is in line with AHRI 700 standard. Our reclaimed product goes through the same rigorous analysis process.

Information on our cylinders is easy to understand. We use cylinder labelling and stamping to help engineers identify the contents and weight. Netting has also been removed to help the engineer and to improve labelling. We do come across rogue cylinders from time to time and we dispose of them and their contents in a safe way to prevent them from re-entering the market.

My advice to contractors is to always ensure that they buy their refrigerants from a reputable supplier. Avoid all refrigerants supplied in unusual or disposable containers and do not buy refrigerants online from suppliers you are unfamiliar with.

In the unlikely event that you do come across what you may believe to be illegal refrigerants, help is on hand. The EFCTC (European FluoroCarbons Technical Committee) has set up a website to report any illegal activities relating to refrigerant import and sales activity. The Integrity Line promises that anyone will be able to report suspicious activities easily and, if necessary, in confidence.

For more information on the Integrity Line, please visit:https://efctc.integrityline.org/