Counterfeit Refrigerant Cylinders – An Industry Menace

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Wilhelmsen Maritime Services issued a warning regarding the dangers posed by some of the counterfeit refrigerant cylinders readily available in the market. The counterfeits consist of a dangerous cocktail of gases that tend to mimic roughly the most common refrigerant, R-134a.

Sighting the case of exploded cylinders containing counterfeit reefer containers in 2011 that killed three port workers, WSS reported that the Rouge gases such as R-40, even though very similar to R-134a, would react adversely with aluminium to form trimethylaluminum, a highly volatile substance that, when exposed to air could explode. Around 0.2% of the world’s reefer container fleet use R-40 contaminated refrigerants affecting nearly 2500 reefers.

Counterfeiters often appear to be authentic with trademarks and logos of the originals. Despite the efforts of leading manufacturers to curb such activities, counterfeits remain an industry menace. Several manufacturers such as Honeywell, Linde and Dupont, have tried to take legal action to crack down on counterfeiters by changed packaging, adding holograms, etc. to discourage fakes. However, the main reason these refrigerants continue to circulate is because of the continued existence of disposable cylinders. While many fleet operators could be ignorant of the dangers that counterfeits could pose, yet others may opt for it, due to lower costs.

Svenn Jacobsen, Technical Product Manager of Refrigeration at Wilhelmsen Ships Services is quoted to have said: “These cylinders are the container of choice for the counterfeiter.  Cheap and untraceable, no counterfeiter is ever going to get any complaints from their customers using this type of packaging.  If the legitimate refrigerant suppliers no longer provided refrigerants in disposable cylinders, the counterfeiters would be out of business.  We don’t support their use and we believe a worldwide ban is far overdue.”

In 2007, the European Union (EU) banned disposable refrigerant cylinders in the EU and on EU flagged vessels, in spite of this, disposable refrigerant cylinders continue to be in wide usage in different parts of the world. Mr. Jacobsen opines that, this move by EU could actually induce counterfeit suppliers to have a stronghold.

Mr. Jacobson is quoted to have said: “It is likely that the reduction in the supply of EU HFCs [hydrofluorocarbon] will lead to shortages and a sharp spike in costs, meaning some operators will be tempted to purchase lower-price refrigerants.  This regulatory change will create an ideal market for counterfeiters. Despite numerous warnings, accidents and fatalities, many operators will be more willing to take a chance on packaged in disposable cylinders by unregistered suppliers.  We anticipate that the counterfeiters of R-134a are going to be very busy in the years ahead.”

Source: Port Technology