A common refrigerant gas that harms the ozone layer to be banned in December; EPA provides advice for affected businesses

Date released: Sep 15 2014

  • 16th September is the UN International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. The ozone layer helps to protect against skin damage by filtering out harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.
  • Through international agreement:
  • Most (98%) of ozone depleting substances have been phased out.
  • A common refrigerant gas known as R22 will be phased out this year.
  • The EPA has prepared a series of e-leaflets advising affected businesses about the R22 ban.

The 16th September marks International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. The theme of the Day this year is Ozone Layer Protection: The Mission Goes On. While the vast bulk of chemicals that damage the ozone layer have been phased out, a few still remain and will be phased out in the coming years. The ozone layer plays an essential part in protecting us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which can cause skin damage such as cancer.

The Montreal Protocol, a global agreement to combat ozone depletion, was signed in 1987. The Protocol was designed to control and phase out the production and use of numerous substances responsible for ozone depletion. There has been a high degree of success with the Montreal Protocol, with a 98% phase-out in the production and use of ozone depleting substances since its introduction. Work continues to phase out the remaining 2%, mainly hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), such as the very common refrigerant gas known as R22.

Commenting, Dr Maria Martin, EPA Senior Manager said,


“The success of the Montreal Protocol in phasing out chemicals that damage the ozone layer clearly shows that global environmental agreements can work, when full commitment is given by all players to achieve a common objective”.

Aerosol sprays, polystyrene foam packaging as well as fridges and freezers have been free of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) for many years and are no longer damaging the ozone layer. Most other ozone depleting substances have also been phased out of use. The end of 2014 sees the final phase out of the refrigerant gas R22. This was widely used, often in large volumes, in commercial and industrial refrigeration and air conditioning. Releases of this gas are known to degrade the ozone layer. While the phase out of this refrigerant has been signalled for a long time, a lot of equipment in Irish businesses still runs on R22.

Caitríona Collins, EPA Inspector, said,


“By year end, operators of equipment still running on R22 should have taken steps to either replace the equipment or retrofit it with an alternative gas, as it will be illegal to service or maintain any equipment with R22 after 31st December next. Failing to be proactive could lead to financial loss, for example through break down of business-critical equipment or product spoiling”.

Ms Collins concluded,

“The EPA, as the Competent Authority in Ireland, has produced information e-leaflets to advise affected sectors about the final phase out of R22. These leaflets are available on the EPA website and have been widely distributed to the sectors affected”.

 
Further information: Niamh Hatchell/Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours)

Notes to Editor:

The importance of the ozone layer

The ozone layer is found about 25km above ground level, in an area of the atmosphere known as the stratosphere. It plays an important role in filtering out most of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. This prevents them from reaching the Earth’s surface, helping to protect against skin damage such as cancer and negative effects on eco-systems. Damage to the ozone layer has resulted in increased exposure at ground level to ultraviolet radiation. Although ozone depletion is most evident in the southern hemisphere, it has also had effects in the northern hemisphere, leading to increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation in Europe. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation is not limited to sunny places, it can occur also in the Irish climate, where 80-85% of the sun’s rays can pass through cloud.

Irish links in ozone protection

Two Irish scientific atmospheric monitoring stations have played a significant role assessing international efforts to save the ozone layer. Over the last 25 years, atmospheric observations from NUI Galway’s Mace Head Station in Connemara and Met Éireann’s Valentia Observatory  in Co Kerry have charted the success of international actions relating to man-made ODS. 
 
Early links between ozone depletion and CFCs in the atmosphere were made in Ireland. The famous English scientist Dr James Lovelock began taking measurements in the 1970s of CFCs in the atmosphere at his family’s holiday cottage in the village of Adrigole in West Cork, where he detected the widespread presence of CFCs in the atmosphere. This information proved instrumental in the later discovery by Sherwood Roland and Mario Molina of the link between the high concentration of CFCs in the atmosphere and the depletion of the ozone layer. In 1978 the holiday cottage at Adrigole became the site of the first station of what was to become a global atmospheric gases experiment (GAGE). These monitoring stations have continued to successfully monitor the atmosphere ever since. Ireland still hosts one of these five monitoring stations, now located at Mace Head, Connemara (the other stations are located in Barbados, California, American Samoa and Tasmania).


Montreal Protocol

The Montreal Protocol is the legal and institutional basis of the ongoing international effort to protect the ozone layer that was begun in the 1970's. The Protocol came into effect on 1 January 1989 and was one of the first environmental agreements to formally recognise the precautionary principle. Parties to the Protocol agreed to freeze their production and consumption of CFCs and halons within seven months of the Protocol’s entry into force, and to reduce consumption of CFCs by 50% within 10 years. Developing countries were given a period of grace of 10 years. The Protocol was signed by 24 countries and was ratified by Ireland on 16 December 1988. The European Community is a Party and each Member State is also a Party to the Montreal Protocol. In 2009, the Montreal Protocol became the first treaty in history to achieve universal ratification with 196 governments (Parties), which means that the entire global community has legally committed itself to meeting the phase-out targets for the chemicals that damage the ozone layer.

International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer

The International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer takes place annually on 16th September, following a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994.

R22

R22 is a very common refrigerant gas used in both refrigeration and air conditioning systems. It was one of the most common replacements for CFC refrigerants, when CFCs were phased out under the Montreal Protocol. R22 is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) gas and it also damages the ozone layer. Therefore, along with all other HCFCs, R22 is to be ultimately phased out in Europe at the end of 2014. From 1 January 2015, it will be illegal to use R22 in the maintenance or servicing of refrigeration, air conditioning or heat pump equipment. 


Information e-leaflets

The EPA has produced information e-leaflets to advise affected sectors about the final phase-out of R22. These leaflets are available on the EPA website and have been widely distributed through sectoral representative groups. The following sectors are addressed in the leaflets: Industry, Retail, Agriculture, Fishing and Marine, Hospitality, Financial Institutions, Educational Institutions, Building Management.

The e-leaflets are available to download from the EPA website and sectoral representatives are free to distribute widely among their members.

Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases

Fluorinated greenhouse gases (‘F-gases’) are a family of man-made gases used in a range of industrial applications. Because they do not damage the atmospheric ozone layer, they are often used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances. However, F-gases are powerful greenhouse gases, with a global warming effect up to 23 000 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2), and their emissions are rising strongly. As part of its policy to tackle climate change, the European Commission has taken regulatory action to control f-gases. The first F-gas Regulation was adopted in 2006 and succeeded in stabilising EU F-gas emissions at 2010 levels. A new Regulation, which replaces the first and applies from 1 January 2015, strengthens the existing measures and introduces a number of far-reaching changes. By 2030 it will cut the EU’s F-gas emissions by two-thirds compared with 2014 levels, primarily through the phase down of HFCs, which are commonly used as refrigerants and have frequently been used to replace ODS refrigerants such as CFCs and HCFCs.

Phase out v phase down

The Montreal Protocol and the EU Regulation on ozone depleting substances set out a schedule for the phase out of the chemicals that damage the ozone layer. A phase out means that the general production and consumption of these chemicals was to be eventually prohibited entirely, with very limited exceptions. On the other hand, fluorinated greenhouse gases are facing a phase down in Europe under the F-gas Regulation.  A phase down means that the total amount of the most damaging f-gases (i.e. HFCs) that can be placed on the market in Europe is to be limited. This will stimulate innovation and the development of green technologies based on alternatives that are less harmful to the climate.

Alternatives

The phase out of ozone depleting substances such as CFCs and HCFCs lead to the increased production and consumption of fluorinated greenhouse gases (f-gases) such as HFCs. Since f-gases are now facing phase down in Europe and therefore, the industry is driven to innovate and develop more climate-friendly alternatives. Operators of equipment that is currently running on R22 now have the opportunity to install new equipment or retrofit the existing equipment with alternatives that have fewer controls and a lower impact on the environment. Operators can discuss their options for alternatives with their refrigeration and air conditioning contractors. Alternatives include natural refrigerants such as CO2 and ammonia, and low/very low global warming potential refrigerants.

Competent authority in Ireland

The Environmental Protection Agency, as the competent authority, is responsible for implementation and enforcement of the legislation on ozone depleting substances. This includes the European Regulation (EC) No. 1005/2009 on substances that deplete the ozone layer and Irish regulations, the Control of Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer Regulations 2011 (S.I. No. 465 of 2011). The Department of Agriculture and Food, the Revenue Commissioners (Customs Division) and the Maritime Safety Directorate are also assigned official responsibility for certain aspects of the legislation, and to assist the Environmental Protection Agency as the competent authority.

Ozone depleting substances

Ozone depleting substances include the groups of chemicals listed in the table below. Ozone depleting potentials are assigned to each chemical relative to the compound CFC-11, which has an ODP of 1.

Ozone depleting substancesTypical Use

Ozone depleting

Potential (ODP)

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) Refrigerants, aerosol propellants, foam blowing agents 1

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons

(HCFCs)

Refrigerants, aerosol propellants, foam blowing agents,

solvents, feedstock in chemical processes

0.520-0.010
Halons Fire prevention and control 3-10
Carbon tetrachloride Solvents, feedstock in chemical processes 1.1
1, 1, 1-trichloroethane Solvents 0.1
Methyl bromide Pest control and fumigation 0.6
Bromochloromethane Solvents 0.12
Hydrobromofluorocarbons Fire prevention and control 0.1-7.5