Air Quality Program - Refrigerants

History of CFCs

In the 1970s, scientists discovered that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), the substances used in refrigerators and air conditioners as well as propellants for spray paints and other liquids, had an unintended consequence. When released to the atmosphere, they eventually make their way to the stratosphere and react with stratospheric ozone. Ozone prevents the sun's harmful UV-B rays from reaching the earth. But chlorine released from CFCs very efficiently destroys ozone in catalytic reactions; one chlorine atom can destroy 100,000 molecules of ozone. Less ozone means more harmful UV-B light reaches the surface of the earth, causing damage to sensitive plants and animals as well as increasing the risk of skin cancer in humans.

In 1987, in a coordinated effort to reduce the destruction of stratospheric ozone, 27 countries signed the "Montreal Protocol", which banned the production of CFCs.

Substitute refrigerants such as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are less destructive to stratospheric ozone and have shorter lifetimes in the stratosphere (for example 12 years for HCFC-22 rather than 100 years for CFC-12) and are used in newer refrigerators and air conditioners. Inert gases are used as propellants now for spray paints and other aerosol products.

For more information about CFCs, see the following websites:

Refrigerant Management and Recycling

In coordination with UW Facility Services' Refrigeration Shop, EH&S ensures that all of the CFCs, HCFCs, and HFCs in campus refrigerators and cooling units are either recycled or, if not recyclable, incinerated properly so that they do not destroy stratospheric ozone.

big fridge (14K) Facility Services' Refrigeration Shop ensures that refrigerators and air conditioners are well-maintained. The refrigeration shop also keeps records and an inventory of all refrigerators and chilling units.

EH&S periodically reviews refrigeration maintenance records and audits other potential sources of ozone-depleting substances and air pollution on campus.

For more information, please see the Compliance Guidance for Industrial Process Refrigeration

What you can do

If you have a refrigerator that you no longer need, working or not, contact UW Surplus. They will collect it and either resell it or dispose of it properly. For more details, go to their website at

Do not vent any refrigerant from your units.

If you use a contractor to work on University air conditioning or refrigeration equipment (including removal of equipment) or if you purchase and install new equipment, notify the Facilities Services Refrigeration Shop Supervisor at 206.685.8835 or notify EH&S at 206.616.5835.

Compliance Checklist For Refrigeration Equipment

University requirements under the AOP for the management of refrigerant gases:

  • It shall be unlawful for any person, in the course of maintaining, servicing, repairing, or disposing of an appliance or industrial process refrigeration, to knowingly vent or otherwise knowingly release into the environment any refrigerant (Class I or Class II refrigerant or any substitute) from such equipment.
  • No person may open appliances (except motor vehicle air conditioners--MVACS) for maintenance, service, or repair, and no person may dispose of appliances (except for small appliances and MVACs) unless such person has certified to the EPA Administrator that such person has acquired certified recovery or recycling equipment and is complying with the applicable requirements of 40 CFR 82.
  • Purchasers of a Class I or Class II substance for use as a refrigerant must have at least one certified technician. A copy of the technician's proof of certification must be maintained at their place of business.
  • Persons disposing of appliances must evacuate equipment to specified vacuum levels and must maintain records verifying that all refrigerant has been removed and identifying the person who removed it.
  • If a refrigeration unit containing more than 50 lbs of refrigerant is found to be leaking at a rate of more than 35% per year (of the total refrigerant in the unit) for commercial and industrial sectors--or 15% for other sectors, the unit must be repaired within 30 days (leak rate must be reduced to below the 15% or 35% annual leak rate).
  • An owner/operator must keep records of refrigerant purchased and added to appliances in cases where owners add their own refrigerants. Records must be kept for a minimum of three years.
  • Records must be kept detailing all refrigerant purchases and the amount of refrigerant used in ALL units, large and small. EPA will look at refrigerant purchases. Purchases of refrigerants for units with charge rates greater than 50 lbs must be within 3% of total refrigerants used in large units as shown in maintenance records (this is an EPA audit guideline used to judge whether venting is occurring).
  • Owners/operators must maintain and possess the following records on-site for units containing more than 50 lbs of class I or class II refrigerant:
    • Leak rate
    • Method used to determine the leak rate and full charge
    • Date a leak rate of greater than the allowable annual leak rate was discovered
    • The location of leak(s) to the extent determined to date
    • Any repair work that has been completed thus far and the date that work was completed

  • Dates and types of all initial and follow-up verification tests performed and the test results for all initial and follow-up verification tests must be maintained and submitted to EPA within 30 days after conducting each test where record keeping and reporting is required.
  • Operators who wish to exclude purged refrigerants that are destroyed from annual leak rate calculations must maintain records on site to support the amount of refrigerant claimed as sent for destruction.
  • Persons servicing appliances normally containing 50 or more pounds of refrigerant must provide the owner/operator of such appliances with an invoice or other documentation, which indicates the amount of refrigerant added to the appliance.
  • Spent refrigerants sent off-site must comply with 173-303-506 WAC (Special requirements for the recycling of spent CFC or HCFC refrigerants).
    • Spent refrigerants sent for reclaim or recycle: see specific records listed in 173-303-506(b)(2). Records must be kept for a period of five years.
    • Spent refrigerants that we know cannot be reclaimed or recycled: these refrigerants are subject to all the applicable requirements of 173-303 WAC (Dangerous Waste Regulations) and must be treated as hazardous waste. Environmental Programs will handle disposal.