Refcom welcomes successful F gas prosecution

Friday, April 29, 2016

The news that the Environment Agency (EA) has carried out a successful prosecution under the F gas Regulations has been welcomed by the building services industry’s refrigerant handling and certification scheme Refcom.

Schneider Electric was fined £3,000 for failing to recover 15kg of sulphur hexafluoride* (SF6) gas that was released to the air from high voltage switchgear being installed at London Gateway Port in Essex. Basildon Magistrates’ Court also ordered the company to pay £18,368 costs.

The EA’s Rooma Horeesorun, who led the prosecution, said SF6 was a “highly potent” fluorinated greenhouse gas (F gas) that would remain in the atmosphere for generations. She added that the environmental damage caused was equivalent of flying a 737 jet from Heathrow to Sydney Australia and back three times.

It has been a legal requirement since July 2009 for all businesses that install, maintain or service stationary equipment containing or designed to contain f gas refrigerants to obtain an F gas Company Certificate.

Refcom, which was set up by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) in 1994, was appointed by the government as a certification body to provide this mandatory service for the refrigeration and air conditioning sectors. It works with the EA to ensure the regulations are properly enforced and reclamation carried out. Refcom now accounts for more than 80% of company certificates for the total UK refrigerant handling market.

Members of the BESA were also heavily involved in the scoping and setting up of the refrigerant handling regulations that now govern all involved in the air conditioning and refrigeration sector.

The success of Refcom in managing f gases used in heating and cooling equipment has also been acknowledged in a major report recently published in the US. The Air Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute (AHRI) studied refrigerant management and recycling programmes worldwide and found that the UK had the highest reported rate of recovery at between 65 and 92% - ahead of other major economies including Australia, Canada, California, the EU, Japan, China and Brazil.

“It is always disappointing to hear of any incidence of environmentally harmful gas being released to atmosphere,” commented Tim Rook, technical director of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA). “Our industry has made real progress in managing recovery and reclamation of fgases in recent years thanks to developments like Refcom.

“However, this episode reinforces the importance of remaining vigilant and it is reassuring to see that the government agency charged with enforcing the F gas Regulations is able to follow up reports of wrongdoing with punitive action,” added Mr Rook.

However, he believes that policing of the F gas Regulations is “woefully under-resourced” and pointed out that this particular breach was self-reported by Schneider Electric.

“The government needs to take another look at this,” said Mr Rook. “We cannot always depend on companies to do the right thing and Schneider should be given some credit for reporting this themselves. There can be little dispute that there are many unreported f gas venting episodes going on out there and the EA needs much greater investment to step up its monitoring work.”

*SF6 has the highest global warming potential of any gas being targeted under climate change legislation. The emission of 1 kg of SF6 is equivalent to an emission of 22,800 kg of CO2. 

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