A consortium of 12 Virginia HVAC/R contractors and two wholesalers have partnered with the nonprofit organization, Substance Abuse Free Environment (SAFE) to address the escalating national trend of teenage refrigerant huffing from occurring in Chesterfield County.
SAFE’s campaign encourages local HVAC/R contractors to install locking caps on accessible outdoor condenser refrigeration ports, the nation’s first community-wide program of its kind, according to Wayne Frith, SAFE’s executive director. The program kicked-off during last March’s National Inhalant and Poison Awareness Week and continued through May. The contractor consortium installed more than 2,500 refrigerant locking caps free of charge on residential air conditioning condensers.
The majority of locking cap installations were retrofits. Both the International Mechanical Code (IMC) and the International Residential Code (IRC) now mandate locking caps on new construction.
The exposure of huffing confirmed what some contractors had suspected all along because of a rise in low refrigerant service calls or huffing paraphernalia found near outdoor condensers, according to Tunnell. The locking caps and their special keys are only available to the trade at HVAC/R wholesalers. They not only deter refrigerant theft, but also include an internal O-ring gasket that prevents accidental refrigerant leakage through the Schraeder valve.
Now that it’s fully established, SAFE is expanding the program awareness to building inspectors, police department home safety inspectors, state-wide media and more HVAC/R contractors throughout the state. Frith believes other counties and states may establish their own awareness programs based on Chesterfield’s ground-breaking initiative.