SYRACUSE -- At first, Ryan Rentmeister thought his mother's air-conditioning unit had just tuckered out. But when he saw that the Freon had disappeared and he could not detect any leaks, he knew he was facing a more sinister problem.
His younger brother, who lives in Sunset, recently had the same problem. So too did several of his clients, as well as several church buildings in Syracuse and Weber County.
"The Freon is being stolen, either so kids can get high or to be resold," said Rentmeister, who is the president of Rentmeister Total Home Service in Syracuse.
Rentmeister also is an instructor at Davis Applied Technology College in Kaysville, where he teaches about heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
It can cost between $200 and $600 to recharge Freon into a home air-conditioning unit, Rentmeister said.
The solution is a simple cap that locks refrigerant access ports, which can be installed by any HVAC company, Rentmeister said. The caps, which cost about $50, are not available at local hardware stores.
Rentmeister's main concern is to keep teenagers safe from the side effects of inhaling, or huffing, the refrigerant.
One of those side effects is death.
Dr. Clayton Bass, an emergency physician with Ogden Regional Medical Center, said he has not seen any patients who have huffed a refrigerant, but he has seen his share of those who have inhaled products not meant to be inhaled.
He said Freon can cause frostbite to the mouth and esophagus, but the most "concerning is sudden death because it is a cardiac irritant."
It can also cause damage to the lungs, which can also cause death, he said.
"It's just not cool to huff Freon," Bass said.
Huffing Freon has been a problem in other states, including California, where the locking caps were developed.
"They had tons of problems back East," Rentmeister said. "Kids would jump on mall roofs and have Freon parties."
Rentmeister said his older brother, who lives in Ogden, noticed that his church building's Freon was disappearing almost weekly.
"We knew about (huffing), but now we have a really good suspicion that this is our problem, not a leak," Rentmeister said.
Syracuse Police Chief Brian Wallace said his officers "have actually arrested a number of juveniles" who have been caught at church buildings owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The teenagers were huffing the Freon from the buildings' air-conditioning units and were charged with abuse of a psychotoxic chemical.
Huffing is not a new way to get high, Wallace said.
"Kids are huffing different things they find in their house," he said.
Marty Malheiro, outreach coordinator with Utah Poison Control, said Freon, or refrigerant, is just one of many products huffers use.
Many of the products, which include nail polish remover or auto degreaser, can be found in any home or garage, Malheiro said.
According to the 2009 State of Utah Prevention Needs Assessment Survey Report prepared by Utah Department of Health, the percentage of teenagers using inhalants has decreased since 2005.
But inhalants, whether glue, aerosol cans or gases, are the most common products misused or abused by sixth-graders, even more than alcohol, Malheiro said.
"If you don't think it's happening, it's happening and it's happening here."