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New Clean Air and RCRA Standards for HFCs Proposed

Posted on 10/23/2023 by Nick Waldron and Roger Marks

US EPA is proposing new requirements for facilities working with hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) including rules for leak detection and repair, reclamation and recycling, recovery, reporting & recordkeeping, and more.

Under the RCRA hazardous waste management regulations, the proposed rule would add streamlined management standards for some spent HFCs and HFC substitutes being reclaimed.

Lastly, EPA is seeking input from stakeholders about how to establish training/certification requirements for technicians.

What's in the Proposed HFCs Rule?

EPA is proposing to establish a program under the Clean Air Act for the management of hydrofluorocarbons that includes:

  • Requirements for leak repair;
  • Use of automatic leak detection system for certain equipment using refrigerants containing hydrofluorocarbons and certain substitutes;
  • Requirements for the use of reclaimed hydrofluorocarbons in certain sectors or subsectors;
  • The use of recycled hydrofluorocarbons in fire suppression equipment;
  • Recovery of hydrofluorocarbons from cylinders;
  • Container tracking; and
  • Certain recordkeeping, reporting, and labeling requirements.

Facilities that recover, recycle, or reclaim HFCs or their substitutes or own, operate, service, repair, recycle, dispose, install, manufacture, or sell equipment containing them may be affected by these proposals. EPA estimates that more than 90 NAICS codes could be affected.

Proposed deadlines for compliance with new requirements would range from 60 days after the rule is published to January 1, 2028. Comments on training/certification requirements must be submitted by December 18, 2023.

New Clean Air and RCRA Standards for HFCs Proposed

Alternative RCRA Hazardous Waste Management Standards

According to the RCRA recycling table in 40 CFR 261.2, spent materials are solid waste when recycled via reclamation. Rather than require facilities that generate spent ignitable refrigerants to comply with the full RCRA Subtitle C regulations, EPA is proposing alternative management standards for these wastes when they are "recycled for reuse."

The alternative management standards would be located in 40 CFR Part 266, Subpart Q.

New Term: "Recycled for Reuse"

As can happen when two regulatory programs mix, EPA had some conflicts in vocabulary to sort out while penning this proposed rule. The term “reclaim” carries a different meaning under RCRA than it does under the Clean Air Act rules for HFCs. 

Under the air regulations, a “reclaimed” refrigerant means something very specific, including that the substance conforms to specific consensus standards. Under RCRA, to “reclaim” hazardous waste is an accepted form of recycling (when certain conditions are met). 

In proposing new RCRA standards for “reclaimed spent HFCs,” EPA needed to be very clear about what “reclaim” means (or will mean) in the context of the rule. 

In the hopes of limiting confusion over what reclaimed means, EPA coined a new umbrella term in the proposed rule--“recycle for reuse.”  The new term encompasses both the RCRA and Clean Air Act meanings of reclaimed. 

Recycle for reuse means: 

“to process an ignitable spent refrigerant to remove contamination and prepare it to be used again. This umbrella term includes reclaiming ignitable spent refrigerants as defined in the context of the RCRA regulations at 40 CFR 261.1(c), and either reclaiming or recycling refrigerants as defined in 40 CFR 82.152." 

88 FR 72273. Federal Register. October 19, 2023.

HFCs and the AIM Act

HFCs are greenhouses gases used in refrigeration and air conditioning, foam blowing agents, solvents, aerosols, and fire suppression. The current Presidential Administration's aims to cut domestic production and use of HFCs by 85% from 2021 to 2036.

The American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act of 2020 authorizes EPA to phase down the production and consumption of listed HFCs, manage these HFCs and their substitutes, and facilitate the transition to next-generation technologies through sector-based restrictions.

Catch the Last Complete EPA Regulations Training of the Year! 

Want a clearer idea of how major EPA air, water, and chemical programs all fit together to affect your site's activities? Join in on the next Complete Environmental Regulations Webinar on December 14–15 at Lion.com.

EH&S professionals who attend can identify the regulations that apply to their facility and locate key requirements to achieve compliance with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to EPCRA, TSCA, Superfund, and more. Prefer to train at your own pace? Try the interactive online course.

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