Counterfeiting of R134a refrigerant we commonly use in vehicles, refrigerated containers, refrigerators and commercial applications has heightened refrigerant purity fears to a new level because the primary contaminant is not only flammable but also toxic and explosive.
A Little History
From the beginning of time, counterfeits of every size, shape and form have existed. Ambitious and entrepreneurial individuals have sought to take advantage of others by copying their ideas and designs with the sole intention of reaping profits from the hard work of others. Often, counterfeiting only occurs when a particular original item has a premium value, leaving plenty of room for the counterfeiters to swoop in with low quality and subpar merchandise. Counterfeiting commonly is associated with things like monetary currency, designer hand bags, expensive watches and popular software programs. But what really constitutes counterfeiting?
The word counterfeit originates from the late 1200s and is defined as "Made in imitation so as to be passed off fraudulently or deceptively as genuine." Nearly anything and everything of value has been counterfeited or at least an attempt was made to create a look alike copy.
When the automobile gained rapid popularity in the early 1900s, a new opportunity for misrepresentation and counterfeiting was born as car parts quickly became a target for the unscrupulous element. Cases of counterfeiting and misrepresentation in the auto body and auto parts sectors are well known with legitimate companies investing time and resources to develop products only to have other questionable entities come along and copy their designs.
Refrigerants Become a Favorite Target
To understand the root of this new counterfeiting opportunity for the criminal element, one must reach back to the late 1980s and the implementation of the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty implemented to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion. Among the substances subject to this phase out was the refrigerant commonly referred to as Freon®. R12, or Freon, was used in commercial applications and subsequently vehicles for some 60 years and had become the mainstay of refrigeration and air conditioning fluids.
When the use of R12 in motor vehicles was terminated in conjunction with the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment, R134a, a new primary cooling fluid, was introduced. But the demand for R12 remained and several countries continued to produce it and prices for this restricted material began to skyrocket. A report released in January 2006 by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a well-respected international non-profit organization "committed to investigating and exposing environmental crime," was covered in the April 2006 issue of Motor Age and documented the illegal import and export of R12 from China.
In 2010, a fishing boat was caught trying to smuggle several thousand pounds of R12 into Taiwan in direct violation of local and international law. A tip led authorities to inspect the vessel and seize the refrigerant. While this case was not one of direct counterfeiting, it underscores the continuing demand for this refrigerant and the steps that some will go through to make a profit.
As this practice of misrepresentation continues today, the contents of the counterfeit cylinders have changed, and the resulting damage from the use of this rogue refrigerant cocktail has become catastrophic for at least three families.