Industry Issues

Counterfeit Refrigerants: Industry Best Practices


There were widespread reports in 2011 of incidents involving the use of counterfeit refrigerants in refrigerated containers. It was subsequently determined that the root cause of the incidents was the usage of counterfeit refrigerants that included R-40 instead of the specified R-134a refrigerant.  In September 2012 at IMO’s meeting DSC 17, it was agreed that WSC, working with other maritime organizations with observer status at the IMO, should submit to DSC 18 (September 2013) a paper on on-going industry initiatives regarding measures to prevent the usage of counterfeit refrigerant, and possibly to include industry best practices.

DSC 18 submission

The Institute of International Container Lessors (IICL), on behalf of an informal industry correspondence group that included WSC, made a submission to DSC 18 that noted that several studies and analyses were still being undertaken to identify the impact of contaminants and counterfeit gasses, including R-40, in refrigeration systems. The submission nevertheless identified steps that, where appropriate, could be taken by refrigerated container owners and operators and their service providers to reduce the risk of additional R-40 contamination.

Chief among these recommended steps was usage of the so-called halide torch -- or flame -- test or other tests with a similar sensitivity level before use of cylinders or when contamination with R-40 is suspected. In the halide torch test, the flame will remain blue if the R-40 presence is less than 300 parts per million (ppm); if the R-40 presence is higher, the flame will turn green.  Additional recommended steps included additional tests if the halide torch test suggests the presence of contamination, and the proper labelling, isolation and safe processing of R-40 contaminated refrigeration systems.

DSC 18 welcomed the industry’s submission, generally agreed with the recommended steps, and encouraged the container industry in due course, through IICL, to develop industry best practices.

CCC 4 submission

Following the completion of the studies mentioned in the DSC 18 submission, IICL on behalf of the informal industry correspondence group made a new submission to the September 2017 meeting of the IMO’s Sub-committee on the Carriage of Cargo and Containers (CCC 4), and released the report as “Industry Best Practices for Preventing the Use of Counterfeit Refrigerants.

The industry submission noted that, based on studies, it has been determined that a level not exceeding 300 parts per million -- or ppm -- of R-40 contamination in refrigerated gas supplies is acceptable.  This determination has been included in the revised purity standard 700-2016 published by AHRI. (The AHRI standard can be accessed at The AHRI standard is widely used around the globe.

This determination is important because it confirms the continued validity of the key recommendation in the industry’s DSC 18 submission to use the halide torch test or other tests with a similar sensitivity level to establish the possible presence of unacceptable R-40 contamination. Consequently, the CCC 4 submission made only a few changes to the earlier recommended steps, labelling these “Industry Best Practices for Preventing Use of Counterfeit Refrigerants”, which is what DSC 18 requested the industry to develop.

It should be noted that there have been no reported major incidents involving refrigerant gas since the industry submission to DSC 18