Many shop owners and technicians may remember the previously prevalent black market in CFC-12. But as CFC-12’s use has waned, a new black market has emerged,
this time in HFC-134a.
Cases of counterfeit HFC-134a are not exactly new. Several years ago, a Harp refrigerant cylinder and its box were labeled as containing HFC-134a, when in fact, the
refrigerant in the cylinder was CFC-12. A close examination of the box reveals the fraud: Harp manufactures its cylinders and boxes in the United Kingdom, yet the
emblem on the box indicates it was manufactured in Portugal.
The box says Portugal, but only the most knowledgeable purchaser would know that legitimate Harp products are packaged in the UK. The tank inside this box was filled with CFC-12.
At the time, the price for CFC-12 in Malaysia – where the cylinder was discovered – was much lower than that for HFC-134a. Profit margin appears to have been the main motive for the alleged fraud in this case.
During 2005, HFC-134a was in short supply. Among other causes, that shortage was fueled by increased demand for motor vehicles in developing nations. More new cars are rolling off assembly lines in these countries, and as the demand for HFC-134a increased, stocks dwindled.
A casual buyer would believe the label, but this tank contained R415B, a blend refrigerant not approved for use in vehicles.
As worldwide supplies shrank, some suppliers resorted to creative and not so creative ways to meet the demand for HFC-134a. In the process, they violated U.S. customs,
trademark and environmental laws.
More recently, HFC-134a that does not meet the chemical requirements for purity has been sold in world markets. Now industry purity specifications (SAE J2776 and
ARI 700-2006) can be identified on packaging and containers
of refrigerant which meets the requirements.
As with everything else, the Latin phrase “caveat emptor”(buyer beware) applies. Be on the look out for counterfeit HFC-134a cylinders at a distributor near you, and
always examine the packaging carefully.
You can report incidents of suspected fraud to the EPA’s
toll-free hotline at 1-800-296-1996.
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