Is R-22 Air Conditioning Refrigerant Harmful To The Environment?

R-22 refrigerants have been a common feature in most air conditioning systems since the early 1990s. They were regarded as less harmful to the environment considering their low ozone depletion rates. However, research has indicated that R-22 refrigerants are actually more harmful than previously assumed. They contain Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC), which are known to destroy the ozone.

Any R22 leakage releases chlorine atoms into the atmosphere, and this leads to the depletion of thousands of ozone molecules. It is now a fact that R22 refrigerants are harmful to the environment. For this reason, various environmental organizations and governmental authorities have declared a phase-out of air-conditioners that use these refrigerants.
Hydro-chlorofluorocarbons replaced chlorofluorocarbons, which have higher ozone depletion rates. However, environmentalists suggest that the effects of HCFCs are still dangerous. The effects are sequential on ozone change and stratospheric temperature in that a 30% reduction of emissions results in a decrease in ozone changes by the same margin. The degradation of the ozone layer also leads to an increase of ultraviolet radiation, which is not only harmful to the environment, but also hazardous to human health. [2]. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons contribute immensely to global warming through the emission of greenhouse gasses, commonly known as the greenhouse effect.
The high global warming potential of HCFC emissions is reason enough to phase out the use of air conditioners that use R-22 refrigerants. Additionally, inhalation or accidental ingestion of Hydrochlorofluorocarbons can have adverse effects on humans. This might cause respiratory irritation, chest tightness, and breathing difficulties. Excessive exposure is dangerous as it may affect important bodily organs such as the heart, liver and reproductive system. It is important to note that HCFC displaces oxygen, subsequently leading to suffocation or even death, especially if applied in an unvented room.
One of the reasons why the use of R22 refrigerants has not attracted a total ban is that HCFCs contain hydrogen, which breaks them down faster before they have a major impact on the ozone layer. However, the relevant authorities have enforced a ban on the use of R-22 refrigerants in new air conditioners. Homeowners can still use air conditioners that contain the R22 refrigerant. Nevertheless, maintenance and servicing that involves dismantling the refrigerant circuits will be considered illegal in countries following the Montreal Protocol. The Montreal Protocol stipulates that all systems that use HFCs that deplete the ozone must be phased out by the year 2050.
In view of the ongoing phase-out of R-22 refrigerants, users are looking for alternative air conditioning systems that use other refrigerants. A failure to upgrade will definitely lead to an increase in maintenance costs, higher carbon dioxide emissions and an increase in health hazards. Refrigerant replacements for R22 systems will be almost impossible considering the lack of compatible spare parts.

The only viable solution to complying with the new developments is to upgrade to the latest, more environment-friendly systems. Manufacturers of air conditioners are now using alternative refrigerants such as the R-410A, which is considered to have zero ozone depletion potential. Additionally, these latest refrigerants are more efficient in terms of energy use and costs.

So if you’re considering new air conditioning installation, you’ll definitely want to make sure your contractor will be installing equipment that utilizes the new refrigerants such as R-410A.

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