Five months after the fatal Icepak coolstores fire at Tamahere officials have begun the hunt for other coolstores using the highly flammable propane refrigerant – and found one just a few kilometres away at Ohaupo.
Blueberry Country co-owner Greg Furniss told the Waikato Times that his company had switched to propane on the recommendation of the Icepak owners with whom he shared the services of a refrigeration engineer.
The hunt for propane-using facilities and the find by the Department of Labour (DOL) conflicts with earlier statements that it “was aware that hydrocarbon refrigerants were and are being used in the industry generally”.
The Waikato Times story also raises questions about how long propane has been in use as a refrigerant.
Furniss told the paper Blueberry Country had been using propane for five to seven years.
At the time of the changeover “about five to seven years ago, the refrigeration industry was told that the widely used, yet safer, Freon R22 gas, would be phased out because of its impact on the ozone layer,” the Waikato Times reported.
“We just had a stage where we were putting in some new equipment and the question was raised and we took that opportunity to get out of the R22,” Mr Furniss said.
Furniss said the DOL had “identified for us some risks that we hadn’t seen … and those risks I think are most satisfactorily dealt with by just changing the gas.”
The company would now use a gas called 404A, which was similar but not as efficient, he said.
NZ Fire Service spokesman Scott Sargentina said the Labour Department alerted the service last weekend that propane was being use on the Blueberry Country site, the paper reported.
He said firefighters wanted to be informed who was using it and see adequate signs were in place.
Mr Sargentina said propane was “certainly top of the mind when any fire crew turns out to a coolstore fire”.
The Waikato Times also reported on the DOL’s letter to Tamahere Forum which showed that it had no idea the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) had made a $60,800 grant to Icepak in June 2007 to assist with a trial of hydrocarbon refrigerant or propane at its Waharoa coolstore.