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Euro directive could halt smuggling

New pan-European laws might be essential to halt smuggling when ozone-depleting refrigerants are phased out in the coming years.

The European Parliament and the European Union’s Council of Ministers have approved a directive which will force all member states to make sure certain environmental offences are criminal when committed intentionally or through serious negligence.

The proposals, due to be formally approved later in the summer, will cover “the production, importation, placing on the market or use of ozone-depleting substances” alongside eight other environmental offences.

States would also have to ensure “inciting, aiding and abetting” such conduct would receive “effective criminal penalties” under the directive – which is seen as one of the most significant ever incursions into the independent legal jurisdictions of member states.

The directive would cover widespread use of refrigerant R22 – under the Montreal Protocol, virgin supplies will be phased out for maintenance use by December 31, 2009. A total ban on recycled R22 comes into force five years later.

Ben Brown, president of the British Refrigeration Association, said: “This is an excellent idea. The number of end-users who haven’t got any plan in place yet as to how to deal with R22 is staggering.

“I have done a series of talks across the country telling people exactly what is happening and what the risks are if they do not comply. There is no doubt that people are not taking this seriously yet.

“About 2,500 tonnes of R22 is sold every year just to replace R22 which has been lost from systems. It is anticipated we will be able to get 500 tonnes of recycled material coming back into the market.

“If people carry on with R22, where are the other 2,000 tonnes going to come from? In that situation, I can understand what the EU is trying to do as many people will be tempted to obtain R22 illegally.”

Fionnuala Walravens, of independent campaigning organisation the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said: “The EIA fully supports the new rules adopted by the European Parliament as this will give enforcement officials greater power to enforce national laws regarding ozone-depleting substances.

“As yet there is no evidence to show an illegal trade of HCFCs in Europe, although there are conditions that might provoke a black market.”

Bob Towse, head of technical and safety at the Heating and Ventilating Contractors’ Association, played down fears over smuggling and said the implementation of F-gas regulations should ensure the UK market stays free of problems. “This might be important for other countries which have softer schemes,” he said.

“In the UK most of the safeguards will be in place through F-gas with legislation covering competence and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs very shortly set to approve a scheme for the registration of businesses handling refrigerant gases – hopefully through REFCOM.

“We lobbied very hard to get a realistic approach to phasing out R22 and other significant greenhouse gases. I cannot see demand continuing for R22 in years to come as we have effective substitutes and we will have systems which are robust enough to make sure that smuggling doesn’t happen.”