In 1987 the Montreal Protocol, an international environmental agreement, established requirements that began the worldwide phaseout of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons. These requirements were later modified, leading to the phaseout, in 1996, of CFC production in all developed nations.

In 1992 an amendment to the Montreal Protocol established a schedule for the phaseout of HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons). HCFCs are substantially less damaging to the ozone layer than CFCs.

However, they still contain ozonedestroying chlorine. The Montreal Protocol, as amended, is carried out in the U.S. through Title VI of the Clean Air Act. This act is implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency.

An HCFC known as R-22 has been the refrigerant of choice for residential heat-pump and air-conditioning systems for more than four decades. Unfortunately for the environment, release of R-22 resulting from system leaks contributes to ozone depletion. In addition, the manufacture of R-22 results in a byproduct that contributes significantly to global warming.

As the manufacture of R-22 is phased out over the coming years as part of the agreement to end production of HCFCs, manufacturers of residential air-conditioning systems are beginning to offer equipment that uses ozone-friendly refrigerants.

Many homeowners may be misinformed about how much longer R-22 will be available to service their central A/C systems and heat pumps. The EPA document assists consumers in deciding what to consider when purchasing a new A/C system or heat pump or repairing an existing system.

Under the terms of the Montreal Protocol, the U. S. agreed to meet certain obligations by specific dates. These will affect the residential heat-pump and air -conditioning industry.

In accordance with the terms of the protocol, the amount of all HCFCs that can be produced nationwide was to be reduced by 35 percent by January 1, 2004. In order to achieve this goal, the U.S. ceased production of HCFC-141b, the most ozone-damaging of this class of chemicals, on January 1, 2003.

This production ban should greatly reduce nationwide use of HCFCs as a group and make it likely that the 2004 deadline will have a minimal effect on R-22 supplies.

After January 1, 2010, chemical manufacturers may still produce R-22 to service existing equipment but not for use in new equipment. As a result, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) manufacturers will only be able to use preexisting supplies of R-22 in the production of new air conditioners and heat pumps.

These existing supplies will include R-22 recovered from existing equipment and recycled by licensed reclaimers. Use of existing refrigerant, including refrigerant that has been recovered and recycled, will be allowed beyond January 1, 2020 to service existing systems. However, chemical manufacturers will no longer be able to produce R-22 to service existing air conditioners and heat pumps.

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