Careful handling of R-134a refrigerant is of major concern to technicians and facilities as well as to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Exposure to R-134a poses serious health risks to individuals who work with it as well as to the environment. Refrigerant leaks and long-term exposure to R-134a by workers may surpass exposure limits recommended by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA calculates exposure limits based on the amount of R-134a refrigerant a technician can safely be exposed to over an eight-hour period.
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Types of Exposure
Potential concerns for technicians exposed to R-143a refrigerant are categorised as acute or chronic. If a worker is exposed to a single accidental release of the refrigerant over a brief time, it is classified as an acute toxicity risk. A chronic toxicity risk, on the other hand, means an individual has been exposed repeatedly to R-134a. This type of exposure risk is typically low because refrigerant sensors are typically used to detect and warn workers of concentration increases, according to the website EPA Ozone Snap.
R-134a toxicity levels have been tested on laboratory rats to determine the short- and long-term health impacts of exposure to this refrigerant. The lowest Approximate Lethal Concentration (ALC) to cause death in rats was exposure to at least 500,000 parts per million (ppm) of R-134a over a four-hour period. In some instances, benign tumours appeared but no affect on the rats' DNA was observed. These tests were conducted with long-term exposures to concentrations of 50,000 ppm. Technicians are rarely exposed to such high levels over an eight-hour period. Refrigerant manufacturers recommend that occupational exposures should not exceed 1,000 ppm, the website EPA Refrigerant Safety reports.
Precautionary measures should be followed to protect against exposure to R-134a refrigerant. Ensure that sufficient ventilation is available to minimise exposure to airborne contaminants. Always wear eye and face protection as well as appropriate gloves and chemical-resistant clothing to avoid refrigerant contact with your skin. Before handling the refrigerant, use NIOSH-approved, full-face respiratory equipment, recommends the website Chiller City.
First Aid Measures
In the event of accidental exposure to refrigerant, seek prompt medical attention. While waiting for professional help to arrive, it is crucial that the following steps be taken. If your eyes have been exposed, flush for at least 15 minutes with lukewarm water. If you have inhaled refrigerant, get to fresh air as quickly as possible and seek co-worker assistance to receive artificial respiration if needed. If refrigerant has come in contact with your skin, wash the exposed area thoroughly (but do not rub) using lukewarm water.
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- EPA Ozone SNAP: Summary of Substitute Refrigerants Listed in SNAP Notice 25:
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Refrigerant Safety:
- Chiller City: Forane R-134a
- National Refrigerants: Safety Data Sheet Refrigerant Gas R134a:
- EPATest.com: Handling Contaminated and Unfamiliar Automotive Refrigerants: