August 21, 2006 in City

Refrigerant debate more than hot air

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Bye-bye, viaduct work

» Some minor items may remain to be completed this week, but crews are just about finished with work on the Interstate 90 viaduct in downtown Spokane.

» Hooray.

Rathdrum, Idaho, company OZ Technology touts its air-conditioning refrigerant HC-12a as a cheaper and more effective alternative to other automobile refrigerants.

Trouble is: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has banned it from being used for that purpose, although it is allowed for industrial uses.

The refrigerant is made from a combination of butane and propane, which EPA officials say is flammable and could cause vehicles to catch fire in a crash.

But that isn’t stopping some people from using it to save money. And they probably don’t have to worry much about getting caught.

The EPA has one person assigned to enforcing its ban, and that person, Michele Wright, said she also handles chlorofluorocarbon and asbestos enforcement in the EPA’s four-state Northwest region.

There has been no enforcement of the HC-12a ban in the region this year.

OZ Technology President Gary Lindgren said HC-12a is safe for use in cars and trucks, adding that he thinks EPA’s refusal to allow its use has more to do with the agency’s close ties to other refrigerant-producing companies than HC-12a’s efficacy or safety.

Lindgren invented the refrigerant in just a couple of weeks in 1992, just as the EPA was banning Freon.

As OZ Technology’s petitions to have HC-12a added to the approved vehicle refrigerant list repeatedly were turned down, sales of HC-12a suffered, Lindgren said. Last year, OZ Technology and another company sold about $528,000 worth of HC-12a, down from about $1 million in the early 1990s.

But Tom Clark, an air program engineer with the Washington state Department of Ecology, said he understands why HC-12a is illegal for use in motor vehicle refrigerant systems.

“It enhances the dangers during auto accidents,” Clark said. “These are gases that will combust.”

Several local mechanics also said they are skeptical.

“That could be bad if you have a small leak and light up in your car,” said Jim Napier, owner of Advantage Automotive in Spokane Valley.

How fast do cops drive?

“As fast as we need to.”

That was the answer from Spokane Valley police Administrative Sgt. George Wigen to a question from reader Marny Lombard about speeding police.

After seeing a Spokane Valley police car whiz by in rush-hour traffic, Lombard was worried that police officers zipping at high speeds through traffic could cause serious accidents.

“If somebody had made a wrong move, it would have been a mess,” she said.

Wigen said officers must obey the speed limit unless they are on an urgent call, and during such calls, they must follow guidelines on how much above the speed limit they can travel.

Just how fast he wouldn’t say for fear that the bad guys would find out and drive just a little faster.

“We try to be careful. The burden’s on us,” said Wigen, who added that the department is liable if it causes damage during a chase or while rushing to a crime scene.

“We try to get there fast, but we don’t want to hurt anybody on the way,”

he said.

Teed off

Lindsey Mercer is tired of duffers late for their tee times tearing through her neighborhood and endangering her two young children.

Residents near Esmeralda Golf Course long have complained about speeding on their 25 mph streets, almost all of it attributable to golfers.

“It’s getting worse and worse and worse,” said Mercer. “They come flying around the corner with their tires squealing.”

At one time, a neighborhood resident distributed toys and stuffed animals around the area with signs urging drivers to slow down.

Now, signs are just stolen, said Mercer.

“It’s a yearly problem – we get complaints there. We added it to our hotline list,” Spokane police Sgt. Craig Meidl said.

More than 100 locations are on that list of traffic complaints, Meidl said. Officers work their way down it, patrolling a number of locations each week.

Golfers late for their tee times aren’t penalized. They still can play 18 holes. So cool it. OK?

Drunken-driving stats

Alcohol-related traffic deaths fell in Idaho last year, but they rose sharply in Washington, according to statistics released last week by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Total alcohol-related fatalities dropped 4.3 percent to 89 in Idaho last year compared with 2004, and deaths caused by drivers with blood-alcohol levels .15 or higher fell 16 percent.

But in Washington, deaths caused by those drunkest of drunken drivers rose 17 percent in 2005, and alcohol-related traffic deaths altogether climbed 19 percent to 294.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is launching an $11 million anti-drunken-driving campaign. The ads primarily will target 21- to 34-year-old men who cause 33 percent of all alcohol-related crashes.

Slow going

North Spokane

Monroe Street is under construction from Francis Avenue to Wall Street. Expect delays.

Rutter Parkway is open on a gravel road with a 25 mph speed limit and single-lane traffic. Flaggers also will be directing single-lane traffic most days on state Highway 291 near Rutter Parkway. Expect delays.

Crestline Street is closed from Lincoln Road to Francis Avenue. Lincoln Road is closed from Napa Street to Crestline. Detours are in place.

West Dennison-Chattaroy Road is closed to all but local traffic between U.S. Highway 395 and Perry Road.

West Plains

Hayford Road is under construction from U.S. Highway 2 to Sprague Avenue. Only one lane of traffic is open in each direction.

South Spokane

U.S. Highway 195 construction between Plaza and Rosalia, Wash., will reduce traffic to one lane between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Flaggers and pilot cars will direct traffic.

Bernard Street is closed from 14th to 29th avenues. Traffic is detoured onto Grand Boulevard and Lincoln Street.

Work on 37th Avenue has closed it from Bernard Street to Grand Boulevard.

Freya Street reconstruction will close it to all but local access from Hartson to 11th avenues and from 18th to 37th avenues. Detours are in place.

Regal Road is under construction from 57th Avenue to the Palouse Highway. Expect delays.

Spokane Valley

Argonne Road is under construction from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. from Indiana Avenue to Montgomery Avenue. Watch for flaggers.

Adams Road is closed from Fourth to Eighth avenues.

Sprague Avenue will be closed from Harmony Road to Hodges Road through Friday.

Broadway Avenue overlay work is under way between Bates Road and Sullivan Road. Expect lane restrictions.

Barker Road is open from Boone Avenue to Riverway with some lane restrictions.

Idaho

Prairie Avenue remains under construction between Ramsey and Huetter.

Construction on Lancaster Road between Government Way and Strahorn may cause delays.

Work on state Highway 200 in Ponderay could cause delays of up to 15 minutes during the next two weeks. Today and Tuesday, Kootenai Cutoff Road will be closed.


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