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Contractors Must Be on "High Alert" to Prevent Refrigerant Abuse

When Julie Millard’s air conditioning unit stopped working in the summer of 2004, she didn’t think much of it. She called her local HVACR contractor who discovered that the residential unit was missing a refrigerant release valve and refrigerant. The contractor suspected a leak, refilled the refrigerant and replaced the valve. A week later, the refrigerant had to be refilled again.

“At that point, we still had no idea what was going on,” Millard said.

Weeks later, Millard and her husband learned that her 13-year-old son, Matthew, was inhaling refrigerant. Matthew was showing a friend how to “get high” and word got back to the Millards.

“We had never heard of people inhaling refrigerant from air conditioning units,” Millard said.

Millard was terrified. She and her husband immediately addressed Matthew and warned him about the deadly consequences of refrigerant abuse. For a while, Matthew stopped inhaling but, nine years later, he was found dead on the air conditioning unit of a neighbor’s house.

Unfortunately, Matthew’s story is not uncommon. One in five American teens has used household products, including refrigerants, to get high. “Sniffing” or “huffing” chemicals is also the high of choice for some 6 – 18 year olds. Consequences are severe and can result in death (Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome) – even on the first use.

March 15 through March 21 is National Inhalants and Poisons Awareness Week (NIPAW) and the Alliance for Consumer Education (ACE) is urging members of the HVACR community to be on “high alert” for signs of refrigerant abuse.

Watch for the following signs that may signal inhalant abuse:

  • Frequent AC repair calls to the same home or neighborhood
  • Refrigerant runs low prematurely
  • Damaged AC units

What can you do?

  • When you spot these signs, share your knowledge and approach homeowners in a considerate manner. Remember, the signs do not confirm abuse and inhalant abusers could be anyone – those who live in the home, or others in the neighborhood.
  • Offer refrigerant locking caps to homeowners.
  • Provide brochures to your customers to help raise awareness.

Last month marked the 2 year anniversary of Matthew’s passing. Since then, Millard continues to share his story in the hopes of raising awareness and saving lives.

Do you have a refrigerant inhalant experience you would like to share?  We encourage you to post it at ACE's Messageboard.  Your story can make a difference.

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