Bidding Adieu to R-22

July 1, 2009
In a few months, the last R-22 air conditioner will roll down the assembly line, as the industry completes the Herculean effort to redesign every product,

In a few months, the last R-22 air conditioner will roll down the assembly line, as the industry completes the Herculean effort to redesign every product, retool every factory, and retrain every technician for the conversion to R-410A. Yet, even now, momentum is building to phase-out R-410A.

Dumping R-410A would be even more ridiculous than phasing out R-22.

R-22 was served a death sentence with the 1987 Montreal Protocol, created in response to reported thinning of the ozone layer. Urgency was based on the discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole in 1985. We were told drastic action was required to save us from species extinction, skin cancer, and starvation. What we were told was wrong.

In 1956 Gordon Dobson (ozone is measured in Dobson units) noted that ozone levels from the Halley Bay Research Station in Antarctica were lower than expected during September and October, but returned to expected levels in November. When the same phenomenon repeated in 1957, Dobson noted, “It was clear that the winter vortex over the South Pole was maintained late into the spring and that this kept the ozone values low. When it suddenly broke up in November, both the ozone values and the stratosphere temperatures suddenly rose.”

Apparently, an Antarctic ozone hole was around long before CFCs. It appears seasonally and varies in size through the years. The 2006 ozone hole was the largest on record. In 2007, it shrank by 30%. The 2008 hole was the fifth largest since 1985. Could this be the result of nature, not man? Yes, according to a recent paper, “Ultraviolet Absorption Spectrum of Chlorine Peroxide, CLOOCL,” published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry, written by a team from the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) at Cal Tech. It's challenged our entire understanding of chemical ozone depletion.

Quirin Schiermeier wrote about the paper in Nature: “The rate of photolysis (light-activated splitting) of this molecule (CLOOCL) was extremely low in the wavelengths available in the stratosphere — almost an order of magnitude lower than the currently accepted rate.”

Since ozone depletion theory requires lots of chlorine radicals resulting from a high rate of photolysis of chlorine dioxide (CL2O2) to attack ozone molecules, the new findings blow up the theory underlying the Montreal Protocol. Suddenly, 60% of ozone destruction can't be explained.

Markus Rex, from Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research said, “If the measurements are correct we can basically no longer say we understand how ozone holes come into being.”

“Our understanding of chloride chemistry has really been blown apart,” said John Crowley of Germany's Max Planck Institute of Chemistry.

Cambridge University's Neil Harris, head of the European Ozone Research Coordinating Unit, noted, “Until recently everything looked like it fitted nicely. Now, suddenly, it's like a plank has been pulled out of a bridge.”

Last year, physicist Costas Verotsos from the University of Athens, commented in Environmental Science & Pollution Research that, “It is time that atmospheric scientists begin to think about new plausible mechanisms, which could fill the aforementioned gap between the observed and theoretical data of ozone depletion.”

Ya think? At least the JPL paper is recent. Way back in 1997, atmospheric science professor, Don Wuebbles, director of the Environmental Council at the University of Illinois, questioned the regulation and phase-out of HCFCs like R-22. Writing in Science, Wuebbles noted HCFCs “have very short atmospheric lifetimes, and mostly decompose before reaching the upper atmosphere. Effects on ozone depletion from some of these compounds are likely to be negligible.”

R-22's atmospheric life is less than 12 years, compared to a century for R-12.

So, even if the phase-out of CFCs was necessary (and Wuebbles thinks it was), there was no scientific basis for eliminating R-22. How could something like this happen?

In his book Ozone Diplomacy, Richard Benedick, the chief U.S. negotiator for the Montreal Protocol wrote, “Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the treaty was its imposition of short-term economic costs to protect human health and the environment against unproved future dangers — dangers that rested on scientific theories, rather than on firm data. At the time of the negotiations and signing, no measurable evidence of damage existed.”

It seems R-22 was killed over conjecture.

The people who comprise the HVAC industry always try to do the right thing. When pressured to phase-out R-410A, maybe the right thing is to say, “No.”

Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable (, the industry's largest business alliance of HVAC contractors. Anyone who wants more of Matt's writing can subscribe to his e-newsletter, Comanche Marketing at He can be reached by email at [email protected], toll free at 877/262-3341, or on his mobile at 214/995-8889.

About the Author

Matt Michel | Chief Executive Officer

Matt Michel was a co-founder and CEO of the Service Roundtable ( The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization. Matt was inducted into the Contracting Business HVAC Hall of Fame in 2015. He is now an author and rancher.