R-40 Refrigerant Has Been Found in Contaminated R-134a Cylinders in the U.S.!

CCAR attended the Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) conference in early February and while we were there we met up with a friend and respected business colleague – Bob Miller of Train Them Now LLC. We asked Bob to be our guest blogger on the subject of refrigerant contamination, and here’s what he offered up;

Here is a timeline of contaminated R-134a containing R-40:
In August, 2011, Honeywell seized approximately 6,000 counterfeit cylinders of counterfeit R-134a labeled as Honeywell Genetron: http://www.acr-news.com/news/news.asp?id=2666

On October 18, 2011, the Maersk shipping company informed the World Shipping Council’s Safe Transport of Containers Working Group that it had recently experienced three cases in which refrigerated cargo containers had exploded for no apparent reason: http://www.acr-news.com/news/news.asp?id=3183&title=Saudi+authorities+seize+3%2C500+cylinders+of+counterfeit+R134a

Suspicion is that as many as 8,000 refrigerated cargo containers that had their refrigeration systems serviced in Viet Nam during 2011 may have been charged with this explosive refrigerant: http://www.worldcargonews.com/htm/w20111026.937700.htm

Neutronics, Inc. first announced R-40 had been found in contaminated cylinders of R-134a on December 11, 2011: http://www.neutronicsinc.com/news/refrigerant/prR40.pdf At that time. it had not yet been found in the U.S., it was limited to Europe and Saudi Arabia; it had also been found in U.S. military vehicles overseas.

On March 5, 2012, a freighter carrying 1150 cylinders of “killer gas” was seized by Russian customs officers, the cylinders originated in China and were shipped through Poland: http://www.shippingreporter.com/shipping-news/killer-gas-found-in-illegal-refrigerant-seizure

In a March 2012 article for the Equipment and Tool Institute, Bob Chabot states that Klima Tec Webasto Servicecenter, a German automotive a/c firm, has documented cases of R-134a-labelled a/c systems in American and other military vehicles returning from service in Afghanistan contaminated with either R-40 or R-40/R-22 blends: http://www.etools.org/R134a

In an April 1, 2012 article, Motor Age Magazine stated that the counterfeiters are agreeable to put any label requested on the cylinders they have available: http://www.searchautoparts.com/motorage/news-service-repair/counterfeit-fact-or-fiction?page=0,2

In an April 9, 2012 video interview with Pete Meier from Motor Age, Peter Coll from Neutronics disclosed that R-134a contaminated with R-40 had been found in the Midwest U.S. The video can be viewed on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igERAwIUZrs

Once more, on February 5, 2013, 3500 cylinders of counterfeit refrigerant were seized by Saudi authorities that was being fraudulently sold under Honeywell’s Genetron brand name: http://www.acr-news.com/news/news.asp?id=3183&title=Saudi+authorities+seize+3%2C500+cylinders+of+counterfeit+R134a

Because of their concern for this problem, in February 2013, British refrigerant manufacturer Harp International added a 125 layer hologram sticker to identify their product that is sold worldwide, but in particular that which is sold in the Middle East. Harp stated that the counterfeit refrigerant originates in China but the Middle East has become the central of its distribution: http://www.acr-news.com/news/news.asp?id=3185&title=Harp+adds+holograms+in+bid+to+beat+the+counterfeiters

The fact is, some counterfeit R-134a is in the U.S and it is dangerous!!

Bob Chabot in his March 2012 article cited above, states: “R-40 is extremely toxic, flammable and highly reactive when exposed to aluminum — commonly used in a/c systems — to form a third, highly volatile compound known as trimethyl aluminum that is explosive upon contact with air. R-40 is a harmful and dangerous material that is not suited for use in automotive R-134a a/c systems. When present, the consequences can be expensive, let alone devastating”.

So, is this for real? You bet! Your first line of defense is to ALWAYS IDENTIFY REFRIGERANT ON EVERY VEHICLE BEFORE YOU HOOK YOUR EQUIPMENT TO IT! Why bother? Well, if you innocently pull this stuff into your machine without knowing, and live through it, you stand the likelihood of contaminating all of your future customer’s vehicles (again, if you live through it!).

It is also a good idea to hook your identifier to a new cylinder of R-134a as a precaution. True, if you know your supplier is reputable, his product is probably OK, but, did you read the article above about Honeywell Genetron-labeled cylinders being counterfeit? And, by the way, DuPont has also confirmed counterfeit refrigerant, too. Neutronics tells us that your identifier should indicate that what is in the cylinder is 100% R-134a and there is NOTHING ELSE present! If R-40 is present, a newer Neutronics identifier will recognize it as an “unknown” refrigerant, it will not identify it as R-40, nor can any other identifier do so, according to Peter Coll from Neutronics, in Bob Chabot’s article cited above.

Rafael Dávalos, Mexichem Fluor CEO states: “Be wary of R-134a being sold well below the current market price. This could be a tip-off that the product may be counterfeit and not what you need.” (This quote comes from Bob Chabot’s article cited above) According to DuPont, some of the counterfeiters spelled it “Dupont”, not the correct “DuPont”: http://www.area-eur.be/system/files/Documents/F04%20P2%20DuPont_Sassano.pdf As is true with any “counterfeit”, look for misspellings or poor quality print on the cylinder. Sadly, no comprehensive list of “legitimate” batch numbers is available . . .

In the event the refrigerant in a customer’s car comes up as “unknown”, what do you do? To quote Peter Coll in Bob Chabot’s article: “Currently, if R40 is found in a system, the system is considered unrepairable. There is no safe and approved solution for removal of the refrigerant and neutralization of the aluminum compound that may have been formed.”

So, in the words of the immortal sergeant on the old TV show “Hill Street Blues”, “Be careful out there”.

Written by CCAR