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CFC update: the final rule.

On April 23, 1993, the Environmental Protection Agency completed the long-awaited final rule for the handling and recycling of CFC and HCFC refrigerants. The rule and the regulations that will follow have a dramatic impact on property managers and owners and will require a thorough review of procedures and personnel involved in managing building cooling systems and appliances.

"Anyone who operates or owns a refrigerant system needs to have a refrigerant plan," says Jim Parsnow, Carrier's marketing communications manager.

Managing and minimizing potential problems requires developing a plan for maintenance, repair, and eventually conversion or replacement of equipment using CFCs or HCFCs. Property managers will need to ensure that appliances and cooling equipment are maintained and serviced in line with EPA requirements. (There are hefty penalties for venting refrigerants and bounties for reporting such incidents.)

Perhaps most important, the final rule reverses the EPA's earlier position and requires refrigerant technicians to be certified. Thus, managers will have to consider certifying staff or shifting work to certified outside contractors.

Although much of the final rule follows requirements outlined in the proposed rule, there are a few points worth noting for the property manager and owner.

Assessing equipment

The EPA requires that before air conditioning or refrigeration equipment is serviced, all of the refrigerant must be evacuated, or transferred, to the system receiver or to recovery and recycling equipment. The one exception is the repair of an isolated component of equipment, if the component contains only a limited amount of refrigerant.

The agency is requiring owners/operators to maintain records of the servicing and repair of all air conditioning and refrigeration equipment. Records must also include the refrigerant purchased and how much refrigerant is added to each piece of equipment on a monthly basis.

The final rule adds a provision requiring that leaks in commercial and industrial equipment in which 35 percent of the charge has been replaced within a year must be repaired within 30 days. For equipment with more than 50 pounds of charge, a loss of more than 15 percent of the charge in a year requires repair within 30 days. Smaller equipment, where repairing leaks of this size might not be cost effective, are exempt from the requirement.

Recovery (the safe extraction and containment of refrigerant) and recycling (cleaning and reusing it in the same equipment or in another machine owned by the same owner) are generally onsite procedures which could be done by certified staff or certified contractors with machinery that meets EPA standards. However, recycled refrigerant cannot be used at other sites or by other owners.

Owners of recycling or recovery equipment, including building owners with in-house service personnel, must submit a signed statement to an EPA Regional Office within 90 days of the rule's publication date (which was May 14, 1993) stating that they have enough certified or grandfathered equipment to perform on-site recovery or recycling.

The EPA is grandfathering all recycling and recovery equipment now in service and is not requiring that it be phased out by a specified time. Nor is the agency requiring that existing equipment be certified. The EPA reached this decision because it felt that most equipment manufactured in the last two years would meet certification requirements.

All recovery or recycling equipment manufactured or imported after November 15, 1993, must be tested and certified by an EPA-approved organization. Manufacturers must retest models every three years and label all equipment as certified.

For the most part, reclamation of refrigerant will be the province of outside contractors, who must also now be certified by the EPA. Reclamation, the cleaning of refrigerants to a purity level of at least ARI Standard 700, is an essential step before refrigerant can be resold or used in different equipment.

Certification of service technicians

A significant change in the final rule is that all technicians maintaining, servicing, or repairing air conditioning and refrigeration equipment and appliances (but not those just transporting refrigerant) must be certified by the EPA. By November 14, 1994, technicians must pass an EPA-developed certification examination, but no training is required.

Despite opposition to mandatory certification by some groups (including IREM), the overwhelming majority of comments favored this option. One concern of those that opposed mandatory certification was the cost borne by employers. However, in the final rule, the EPA estimates that four to eight hours of training would be adequate to prepare for the certification examination. The agency estimates the cost of such training at between $30 and $75 per person.

Any organization may offer training to prepare for the exam, but no group will be approved by the EPA. Several trade and professional organizations such as the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society, the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), and the Mechanical Contractors of America are already offering training programs.

However, graduates of these courses will generally be required to pass the new certification examination unless the organization whose program they attended is approved by the EPA as a certifying program to administer the new examination.

Examinations for Type-I certification may also be taken by mail.

Recognizing that not every technician will work on all types of equipment, the EPA has created three types of certification:

* Type I, for servicing or recovery for household appliances.

* Type II, for servicing or recovery for high-pressure equipment, such as unitary house air conditioners.

Note that although technicians servicing motor vehicle air conditioners (MVAC) and MVAC-like appliances are considered Type II technicians, these individuals would generally be certified by an EPA-approved program under Section 609 of the Clean Air Act of 1990.

* Type III, for servicing or recovery for low-pressure equipment.

Universal certification to work on all types of equipment may be achieved by passing all parts of the examination.

Because there is relatively little intermediate and very-high-pressure equipment, the EPA did not plan a special certification requirement but instead will integrate material on this equipment into Type II and III certification.

The decision to train employees

As certification becomes mandatory, property managers and owners must once again assess whether or not it is desirable to train and certify in-house staff for refrigerant service and recovery.

John McTiernan, senior training instructor for Carrier, says, "People who are comfortable that their staff is cost effective might want to seek training for that staff."

The number and size of refrigeration equipment will be another factor in the staff or outsource decision. If there are a large number of units or a great variety of equipment, an on-site person may be worthwhile. Adam Bell, vice president of Snyder General's McQuay Service Division, points out that the advantages of an on-site person include convenience and instant response.

Cost savings are also a consideration. Says Bell, "You're saving the contractor's markup, but not the cost of labor with an in-house employee."

There are benefits to upgrading personnel and service procedures: a properly trained technician can affect machinery and coolant life. "Proper service can make a tremendous difference," says Parsnow. "The annual leak rate on centrifugal chillers can average 20 to 25 percent. Good containment and service procedures can reduce that to less than 3 percent."

David C. Parks, CPM |R~, senior property manager and director of environmental operations for Trammell Crow, suggests that the decision to have certified on-site staff should be made based on three factors: the type and size of the property, the cost the property owner is willing to pay, and the risk the property owner is willing to absorb.

Assigning liability

A final consideration for owners and managers must be the liability issue. If staff fails to repair refrigerant leaks or causes venting, the owner is 100-percent liable. With the requirement that technicians be certified, says Parks, "there's no opportunity to claim ignorance as a defense" in the event of a venting or leakage incident.

The EPA says it recognizes that accidents can happen, but it reserves the right to determine whether "accidental" releases merit pursuing enforcement actions.

Some owners and managers have turned to outside contractors as a way to avoid this risk, believing they have shifted responsibility to the contractor. That is probably not so.

Both the Clean Air Act of 1990 and the new final rule place responsibility for intentional acts and conduct on the owner of the air conditioning or refrigerant equipment.

Says Kay Pick, an attorney specializing in environmental law with the Chicago firm of Hedlund and Hanley, "The regulations clearly state that the owner bears the responsibility. Nor can owners shield themselves from information-they can't tell a manager, 'Don't tell me anything,' then avoid liability through that ignorance. They must insist on being informed."

This does not mean that the service provider or even the manager is automatically safe from liability. Owners may attempt to transfer liability to a service provider, or even a manager, during contract negotiation. In addition, past EPA activity seems to indicate that all parties involved may be pursued if a violation occurs.

However, Pick cautions, "There's no case law on this yet. We don't really know yet how this liability issue will work in the real world."

The best alternative?

With so much changing so rapidly, what is the prudent course for now? After inventorying equipment, the property manager should develop both a maintenance/service plan, including determining who will provide service, and a long-term retrofit/replacement plan for equipment, particularly that using CFCs.

No matter what options they choose, owners who wish to be protected against enforcement actions must keep fully informed that accepted procedures are being carefully followed and that whatever equipment they own is operating in peak condition.

Property managers entrusted with responsibility for cooling systems and appliances must be sure that exact maintenance and service procedures are performed by fully qualified staff or certified technicians supplied by outside contractors.

Every indication is that the EPA intends to strenuously enforce the new rule. Property managers must develop long-range plans in order to put in place the right staff and procedures to meet the standards of government policy cost effectively.

Danielle Schultz is a Chicago-based freelance writer.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Association of Realtors
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:chlorofluorocarbon
Author:Schultz, Danielle
Publication:Journal of Property Management
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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