The coolant is readily available, making it a temptation for smugglers, The New York Times reported Saturday.
"There is no question that this is inhibiting phase-out," said Rajendra Shende, a former head of the U.N. Ozone Action Program.
The phase out of the coolant, which contributes to global warming, was made an international priority in the environmental treaty known as the Montreal Protocol. However, because it is readily available, legal coolant has become less available and, therefore, more expensive -- giving smugglers a price advantage.
Carlos Garcia, a senior vice president of appliance parts company Marcone, was given a 13-month sentence this summer for orchestrating a smuggling operation of the invisible gas, which gets by customs officials who, due to a lack of enforcement resources, typically focus on drugs and weapons.
Garcia, who was busted by the South Florida office -- the only customs office with an environmental protection unit -- had been "a hero to his company," assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald said.
It took two years of wiretaps and evidence collecting to bring charges against Garcia, the Times reported.
A U.N. official who monitors HCFC-22, said the amount intercepted by authorities was "the tip of the iceberg."
Many people are holding onto older air conditioning equipment because of the struggling economy, reducing incentives for development of environmentally friendly air conditioners, the Times said.