Refrigerant smuggler pleads guilty in US

Melting ice cubesA company involved in the smuggling of an environmentally-harmful refrigerant gas has been fined $280,000 by a US court.

Miami, Florida-based FSD Corp pleaded guilty to the illegal receipt, purchase and sale of around 65,000kg of HCFC-22 (R-22), an ozone-depleting refrigerant that is used in heat pump and air-conditioning systems but is subject to strict import controls in the US.

The US is in the process of phasing out the use of HCFC-22, with a complete ban scheduled for 2030, and importers of the gas must hold a license which sets out a baseline product and importation allowance.  

The action against FSD Group - which also operates as Saez Distributors - is part of the a federal enforcement action called Catch-22 which has already led to the convictions of around a dozen individuals and corporations

According to a Department of Justice statement FSD Group supplemented its own legal imports with illegal transactions valued at around $730,000. The penalty handed down by the court - which includes $100,000 in criminal fines and $180,000 in proceeds of crime forfeitures - is the first to be applied to an allowance holder.

FSD Group has also been sentenced to three years' probation in the case, which was brought by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

DuPont warning

Meanwhile DuPont has repeated warnings that counterfeit R-22 and a replacement product - R-438a - is being sold in the US in large amounts. R-438a is a so-called 'retrofit' blend intended to replace R22 with a less environmentally-harmful alternative.

While R-438a is non-flammable, the counterfeits have been found to contain flammable hydrocarbons - including propane - which could be extremely hazardous, says the chemical company.

DuPont has put together a list of five warning signs to help guard against buying counterfeits on its refrigerants blog, namely:

1) Conduct a visual check of the product packaging;
2) Carry out chemical tests using electronic analysers;
3) Check how efficiently your machinery is running, especially with regard to energy use;
4) If the price is too good to be true, it probably is; and
5) Stay in the network any buy from approved vendors.

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