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Advertising of Alternative Refrigerants

This letter contains recommendations for advertising of alternative refrigerants. It was sent by Jeffrey Levy, former refrigerants analyst for the Significant New Alternatives Policy ( SNAP) Program. Note that a followup letter was sent later to clarify the legality of recycling alternative motor vehicle refrigerant blends.

July 30, 1996

As you may be aware, pursuant to the Significant New Alternatives Policy ("SNAP") program, EPA has found several refrigerants acceptable as substitutes for CFC-12 in motor vehicle air conditioning, subject to certain conditions on their use. In addition, several other refrigerants have been proposed as acceptable for the same category. Through this letter, EPA is attempting to provide guidance regarding some significant concerns that have arisen concerning advertising these acceptable and proposed acceptable substitutes for CFC-12 in motor vehicle air conditioning.

Unlike many other EPA programs, under SNAP, EPA does not make determinations regarding the efficacy of substitutes; rather EPA makes determinations based on a comparison of the human health and environmental risk of the available substitutes. As a result, there is confusion regarding the appropriate way to advertise products that EPA has reviewed or is in the process of reviewing under SNAP. Because we are very concerned that accurate information be disseminated to both consumers and shop technicians about the meaning of EPA's acceptability determinations, we are providing the following guidance regarding advertising substitutes. Given the intense interest in finding good alternatives for CFC-12 in motor vehicles, the potential market size for alternative refrigerants, and rapidly spreading rumors, it is critical that manufacturers, distributors, and technicians using substitutes accurately convey information about these substitutes.

This letter discusses problems that have arisen in some advertising referring to EPA's acceptability determinations under SNAP. In addition, it contains several specific recommendations to help avoid false or misleading advertising. In preparing this letter, we have consulted with staff of the Federal Trade Commission, the federal agency with jurisdiction over false and misleading advertising. In addition, most states have laws prohibiting deceptive advertising.

Language for use when referring to EPA determinations

When referring to final EPA determinations for use of refrigerants in motor vehicle air conditioners, especially in literature directed to shop technicians or "do-it-yourself" consumers, use either a) "acceptable subject to use conditions" or b) "acceptable" plus a statement that certain conditions apply. Simply claiming a product is "acceptable" in this end-use is of concern because it may mislead some shop technicians or do-it-yourselfers to simply substitute the product without making other necessary changes. Although we recognize that the full statement is lengthy, it will alleviate misconceptions about the requirements to use unique fittings and labels and to remove CFC-12 before charging a system with an alternative.

For refrigerants that EPA has proposed as acceptable subject to use conditions, but for which EPA has not yet taken final action, add the word "proposed" to the options listed above (e.g., "proposed acceptable subject to use conditions").

Under the SNAP program, EPA does not "endorse," "recommend," "register," or "suggest," the use of any substitute. Therefore, those words and other language that implies any form of endorsement when describing EPA determinations should be avoided. EPA only reviews refrigerants for their safety from a human health and environmental perspective. In addition, finding a refrigerant acceptable subject to use conditions does not indicate that it will work in any particular type of vehicle. Thus, it is misleading to state or imply that EPA believes a substitute will work in a given vehicle. Advertising should not imply that EPA acceptance, subject to use conditions, means that EPA has determined that the product will work in any particular vehicle.

EPA does not analyze the efficacy of substitutes for certain uses, nor does the Agency rank or compare substitutes on the acceptable list on the basis of safety; EPA believes that all refrigerants that it has determined are "acceptable" subject to use conditions, may be used safely.

EPA does not recommend any one product over another. Therefore, statements that express or imply that a substitute is recommended or that it is safer than other listed substitutes are inappropriate.

EPA does not test substitutes and statements that express or imply that EPA has tested a substitute are inappropriate.

The term "drop-in" may imply to many consumers that the product can either be added to existing CFC-12 refrigerant or may be substituted without making other changes to the system. Neither claim is true. The " use conditions" prohibit charging a new refrigerant into a system that contains CFC-12 without first removing the CFC-12, and require changing the service fittings. Thus, this term should be avoided or the advertising using this term should make clear that both conditions must be met. Again, this is of particular concern in advertising directed to shop technicians or do-it-yourself consumers.

Keep current with EPA listings. As of the effective dates of such listings, it is important to account for new information in advertising materials.

The recycling of an alternative other than HFC-134a is not currently covered by a specific standard. It is currently permissible to add new fittings to recovery/recycling equipment designed for use with CFC-12 and then use that equipment with alternatives other than HFC-134a (editor's note: this statement was too broad and a clarification letter was sent). Because of the SNAP requirement to add new permanent fittings, it is inappropriate to state or imply that unmodified CFC-12 recovery/recycling equipment can be used with a substitute refrigerant. In addition, all of the information in this paragraph may change in the future, so it is important that advertising remain current.

Finally, we would remind you that both Federal and most State deceptive practices laws require all advertisers to have reliable test data substantiating all objective product claims made in advertising. Thus, for example, advertising claiming that a particular product is the only product with certain characteristics, or is an effective refrigerant for specific cars or air conditioners, must be supported be reliable testing before the claims are made.

I am attaching for your information an EPA fact sheet discussing many of these issues in greater detail.

Working together, we can minimize the inaccurate claims and rumors that abound by ensuring that accurate information about all alternatives reaches the public.

Jeffrey Levy
SNAP Refrigerants Analyst

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