New rules for tracking refrigerant leaks came into effect on Jan. 1. Here’s what you need to know.
By Barbara Jo Ruble, QEP, CPEA, President of Specialty Technical Consultants, Inc. (STC). STC is an EHSQ Alliance Affiliate.
One of the environmental issues that still seems to confuse people is the regulatory requirement for tracking refrigerant leaks. Part of the confusion relates to changes that EPA made to the rules in 2016, and proposed to rescind in 2018, but never did. These rules came into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
This article will review the requirements for managing and tracking refrigerant leaks from industrial and commercial refrigeration equipment and comfort cooling (HVAC) systems
Background and Recent Rule Changes
The Clean Air Act gave EPA responsibility for protecting the stratospheric ozone layer. To that end, regulations in 40 CFR 82 Subpart F establish rules addressing the manufacture, sale, distribution, use, emission, recapture, recycling and disposal of refrigerants, including CFCs, HCFCs and substitute refrigerants.
In the past, the requirements to track refrigerant leaks applied to industrial or commercial refrigeration appliances or HVAC equipment that contained any Class I or Class II Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS). In November 2016, EPA extended those rules to any refrigerant that is not specifically exempt; and exemptions are use-dependent (see Table 1). These extended rules also included changes to leak rate triggers for required repair activities.
In September 2018, EPA proposed rescinding the rule extension, but that proposed regulation was not finalized, due in part to the federal government shutdown. At least for now, the expanded rule is in force and the requirements took effect in January 2019.
What Do We Have To Do?
The equipment owner or operator must calculate the leak rate every time refrigerant is added to an appliance, unless the addition is made immediately following a retrofit or installation of a new appliance, or qualifies as a seasonal variance. What we often see during audits is that the owner/operator has a refrigeration/HVAC service provider who maintains all their equipment and that the owner/operator believes that this service provider also is preparing the leak rate calculations after each related service.
The 2016 update to the regulations required that service providers provide documentation of the maintenance activity to the owners/operators of the equipment, who are then specifically responsible for calculating leak rates every time refrigerant is added to the equipment. While the work report prepared by the service provider includes information about the maintenance activity, the required leak rate calculations are not being completed.
For each appliance with more than 50 pounds of refrigerant, you will need to keep records showing the full charge for that appliance (or circuit), the date and nature of the service and the number of pounds of refrigerant added. The owner/operator is required to maintain records of these activities for at least three years.
How Do We Calculate Leak Rates?
Leak rates are expressed in terms of the percentage of the appliance’s full charge that would be lost over a 12-month period if the current rate of loss were to continue over that period.
Equipment owners/operators may choose either of two methods to calculate the leak rate, but, the same method must be used for all regulated appliances located at an operating facility.
The Annualizing Method
This method is summarized in the following formula:
Step 1. Take the number of pounds of refrigerant added to the unit to return it to a full charge - whether in one addition or multiple additions related to the same leak - and divide it by the number of pounds of refrigerant the appliance normally contains at full charge.
Step 2. Count the the number of days since the last day refrigerant was added. If that number is less than 365, then 365 by the number of days since refrigerant was added. If the number of days passed is more than 365, then use 1 as your result.
Step 3. Take the number calculated in Step 1 and multiply it by the number calculated in Step 2.
Step 4. Multiply the number calculated in Step 3 by 100 to calculate a percentage.
The Rolling Average Method
This method is summarized in the following formula:
Step 1. Take the sum of the pounds of refrigerant added to the appliance over the previous 365-day period (or over the period that has passed since the last successful follow-up verification test showing all identified leaks in the appliance were repaired, if that period is less than one year);
Step 2. Divide the result of Step 1 by the pounds of refrigerant the appliance normally contains at full charge; and
Step 3. Multiply the result of Step 2 by 100 to obtain a percentage.
For Substitute Refrigerants Starting Jan. 1, 2019
Because no records were required for additions of substitute refrigerant made prior to Jan. 1, 2019, owners/operators may calculate leak rates for appliances containing substitute refrigerants as though there were no additions prior to that date.
Leak Rates Trigger Repair Actions
EPA established leak rates that require repair actions. Starting Jan. 1, 2019, the thresholds are lower than previous years; and the leak rate calculations have to be done for all but the exempt substitute refrigerants (see Table 1). The new thresholds are as follows:
- Industrial process refrigeration equipment: 30%
- Commercial refrigeration units: 20%
- Comfort cooling appliances: 10%
If one of your appliances is leaking at a rate above the threshold, you must have the appliance repaired within 30 days and you must maintain documentation of the repair. The 30-day clock starts when the leak is discovered (or when it should have been discovered if the owner was intentionally shielding themselves from information that would have revealed the leak). If the appliance is an industrial process refrigeration unit and the repair would necessitate shutting down the process, you have 120 days to make the repair and additional time may be allowed if the parts needed to make the repair cannot be obtained within that 30- or 120-day time period.
Technicians must not add refrigerant to a leaking appliance until it has been repaired. Owners must conduct both initial and follow-up verification tests to show that the leaks have been repaired.
Starting Jan. 1, 2019, follow-up verification test must be performed within 10 days of the successful initial verification test or 10 days of the appliance reaching normal operating characteristics and conditions. If it is unsafe to be present or otherwise impossible to conduct a follow-up verification test when the system is operating at normal operating conditions, the verification test must be conducted before the system returns to normal operating conditions.
Chronically Leaking Appliances
Starting Jan. 1, 2019, if any appliance leaks at a rate of 125% or more of its full charge in one calendar year, the owner or operator must submit a report to EPA describing the efforts made to identify the leaks and repair the appliance. Those reports are due no later than March 1 of the following year.
If the Appliance Cannot Be Repaired
If, after making good faith repair efforts, the appliance cannot be repaired, the owner or operator may develop and implement a written 1-year retrofit or retirement plan (see 40 CFR 82.156(i)(6)) or they can mothball the equipment. Rules for retrofit plans after Jan. 1, 2019 may be found at 40 CFR 82.157(h).
New Periodic Inspection Requirements
Starting Jan. 1, 2019 owners and operators of any appliance that have exceeded leak thresholds will be obligated to have a certified technician periodically inspect the equipment for leaks unless the equipment is continuously monitored by an automatic leak detection system (see 40 CFR 82.157(g)). Inspection frequency will be based on the type of equipment (see Table 2).
This article discussed only a small slice of the regulations that govern the use of refrigerants. There are rules that govern the qualifications required for technicians that service refrigeration systems and appliances, as well as regulations for disposal of smaller appliances and maintenance of motor vehicle air conditioning systems. It is important for equipment owner/operators to understand all applicable requirements. Based upon our audit experience, accurately calculating leak rates and meeting required repair requirements has been a challenge for many owner/operators.
Barbara Jo Ruble, QEP, CPEA is the President of Specialty Technical Consultants. She has more than 30 years of experience helping clients in a wide variety of industries to develop, assess and improve their EHS management systems and compliance programs. Barb has performed more than 200 EHS compliance audits or management systems assessments of industrial facilities worldwide. She also has provided independent review of corporate EHS auditing programs. Barb is the primary author of ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management Systems: A Complete Implementation Guide, published by Specialty Technical Publishers of Vancouver, Canada.
For more information about STC's EHS auditing services or to discuss this article, contact Barb at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 410-625-1952.
Republished with permission.
For more information about STC, see www.specialtytechnicalconsultants.com.
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