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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Freon Free in 1996

Air Date: Week of

As of January 1, 1996 car manufacturers in the United States will start selling autos with air conditioning that is CFC(chlorofluorocarbon)-free. Some consumers are confused about what that means and how it may impact them. In this consumer information segment, Steve Curwood talks with Drusilla Hufford of the Environmental Protection Agency on what consumers need to know about this shift in auto air conditioning.


CURWOOD: As of January first, it will no longer be legal in the US to make CFC refrigerants, the most famous of which is known by its brand name Freon. This of course is the stuff that destroys the stratospheric ozone layer. One of the main uses of Freon is car air conditioners. Since 1994, car ACs have been made with new ozone-friendly chemicals. That's fine for drivers of new cars, but what about the rest of us who drive older ones? With the manufacturing ban and stories about the smuggling of CFCs, there's a common perception that drivers won't be able to get Freon to recharge their systems. Drusilla Hufford of the US Environmental Protection Agency says that's just not true.

HUFFORD: Unfortunately, there's a fairly widespread misimpression that what the Montreal Protocol and the Clean Air Act controls on the ozone-depleting substances, the CFCs, really means, is that everybody has to change over their air conditioning units, either in their cars or any other place on January first, '96. The reality is, the controls we have in place affect production only, and not use of the ozone-depleting chemicals. But EPA has been concerned about the possibility of consumers being misled. Because of that we've put out a whole range of fact sheets and we also have a hot line, which consumers can call. It's at 1-800-296-1996. And find out a little bit about conversions and about the retrofit program generally.

CURWOOD: So there's nothing to be worried about, then.

HUFFORD: Well, the reality for drivers of old cars, and I'm one of those, I have an '81 Mustang, is that we'll be able to find CFC-12 to use in our auto air conditioners for some time, probably.

CURWOOD: So, if you have a car that uses Freon, CFC-12, today, you don't have to worry, you're not going to be required to get rid of that air conditioning unit.

HUFFORD: We're not recommending conversions unless people have had, for example, some kind of major collision or are having other work done for some other reason, like a catastrophic compressor failure. But in cases where people do retrofit, costs are anywhere from $200 to $800 depending on the make and the model of the car.

CURWOOD: That's to put in essentially a whole brand new system.

HUFFORD: Exactly. That's to retrofit to, in most cases what people are moving to is HFC-134a.

CURWOOD: What does that mean, HFC-134a?

HUFFORD: Well, in terms of cooling capacity it doesn't mean much. We understand that the performance of this material is quite similar. The important thing for consumers who care about the ozone layer to know is that it doesn't have any chlorine in it, so it doesn't damage the ozone layer.

CURWOOD: How are the supplies of Freon right now?

HUFFORD: Supplies seem to be really quite high. There's been a fair amount of concern about the transition for some years, and it appears to us that many people in the industry have stockpiled, and that there are probably going to be reserves for at least the next several years. Now that doesn't mean that prices over time won't go up. But it does mean that people are not likely to be caught without any available supply of CFC-12 for existing equipment.

CURWOOD: Drusilla Hufford is acting director of the EPA's Stratospheric Protection Division. Again, the EPA hot line number for questions about car air conditioning is 1-800-296-1996. That's 1-800-296-1996.



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