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Dangerous Air Conditioning Recharging

As the start of the air conditioning usage in the northern hemisphere starts in early February for those in the southern states of the USA. People typically turn the AC on and if it doesn’t work, they go to see the mechanic. In some cases they drive to the parts store, purchase a recharge kit recommended by the sales person and go home to recharge the AC in the car.

Normally this is not much of a cause for concern, except this year there may be a problem with a dangerous refrigerant contamination. This contamination possibility was reported by Neutronics, which is one of the largest and best known refrigerant identification tool manufacturers. They supply several large tool distributors like Snap On.

Neutronics refrigerant analysis division announced a large problem of contamination in a press release. This press release was supposedly the result of investigations in the ocean going shipping industry where a R-134a refrigerant contamination problem had reportedly resulted in several deaths and a significant interruption to ocean going transportation.  During the course of the investigation by Neutronics, it was discovered that this dangerous refrigerant contamination problem was not isolated to a single industry but had potentially penetrated the R-134a refrigerant supply for applications in many global markets including automotive.

The investigation revealed most of the contaminated R-134a refrigerant was shown to contain significant quantities of R-40 (aka Methyl Chloride or Chloromethane).  R-40 is extremely toxic, flammable and highly reactive when exposed to aluminum in that it forms a third, highly volatile compound. 

It is critical to note the safety concerns that R-40 is a harmful and dangerous material that is not suited for use in R-134a refrigeration air conditioning systems.  Most, if not all of the contaminated R-134a has been found in counterfeit labeled "virgin" R-134a cylinders.  In one instance it was reported that "thousands" of  30 lb. cylinders of R-134a refrigerant cylinders have been found to be counterfeits of name brand product.  Other suspect 30 lb. cylinders of virgin R-134a containers were found to contain large quantities of R-22 and R-12 refrigerants.

This R40 contamination if true could prove very dangerous for everyone as most AC systems in vehicles are mostly Aluminum components. The reaction time for the R40 to form the highly volatile compound is unknown, but it is safe to say that this is not something you would want in your car or home as R134a is used in both places.

The press release states that most refrigerant identifiers are not capable of identifying this R40 contamination. It states “Neutronics has evaluated the performance of both current and legacy refrigerant identifiers to determine their suitability for use in testing cylinders with the suspect R-40 material.  To date, all reported cases of "virgin" cylinder contamination have included at least 30-40 percent R-40 in the cylinder.”

The press release continues with the statement that Neutronics has developed tools that are capable of detecting this contamination and offers the name and phone number of a contact at Neutronics to learn more. This contact is in sales, not in engineering so the press release is a little suspect.

This is questioned by several “Master Technicians’ comments to the press release.  

Mastertechnician91 states “Again, is this a ploy to sell tools? Ive been in the Automotive Field, for 35 plus years, and seen this type of stuff before. Like the other poster stated, HAVE YOUR SUPPLIER TEST IT! They are selling it, they are responsible for what they are selling! “

Toddsterg posts “I hope this is true because it sounds like a company called neutronics is trying to sell a product “

Rich5721 states “ Neutronics makes the best refrigerant identifiers, they supply Snap-on, but it cost $1,700.00-$5,000.00 for their machines, plus $8,000 for a Snap-on A/C machine. It is true R134A and R12 should be tested when removed or added a car/truck, but I think it the Snap-on A/C machine should have a refrigerant identifier built-in.”

It is not important if the press release by Neutronics is nothing but a marketing scheme to sell new refrigerant identifiers or if they are truly concerned. What is important is the safety of everyone from a possible fire or explosion caused by the contamination, and how you can protect yourself and your family. 

First, don’t buy one of the kits from the parts store for you to do it yourself, as the small cans can contain the R40 and it is doubtful if the parts store staff would test such a small quantity. Second, you should have the service performed by a repair shop that either has R134a which was purchased over 18 months ago, or is concerned enough to purchase a refrigerant identifier capable of testing for R40, or has the distributor test the cylinders with the proper refrigerant identifier. Third, you should keep your receipt in a safe place, not in your glove box, if something should happen then the proof of servicing can be presented.

Updated Information:

If you are not aware of the tremendous safety concerns by Daimler / Mercedes Banz and the new refrigerant, R1234yf, being used by many car makers, you should read the article linked below. It is most enlightening and provides a good counter-point to the advertising from Dupont & Honeywell. It is a very large safety concern for everyone. CLICK HERE

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