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Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)en español
Chlorofluorocarbons have been banned since 1996 because they destroy the ozone layer.

What are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)?

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are a group of manufactured chemical compounds that contain chlorine, fluorine, and carbon. This group includes CFC-11, CFC-12, CFC-113, CFC-114, CFC-115, and many forms of Freon. They are colorless, odorless, nontoxic, nonflammable, and stable when emitted. When they are emitted and reach the stratosphere, they break apart and release chlorine atoms, which destroy the earth’s ozone layer. CFCs can last for more than 100 years in the stratosphere. Because they destroy the ozone layer, CFCs have been banned from production in the United States since December 31, 1995. Only recycled and stockpiled CFCs can now be used on a limited basis. 

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are factory-made chemical compounds now being used as ozone-safe replacements for CFCs.  HFCs belong to a class of chemicals called fluorinated gases. HFCs are used as refrigerants in businesses and residences, and air conditioning systems in vehicles; aerosol propellants; solvents for electrical components; and fire retardants.  The major source of HFC emissions is leakage from air conditioning systems in vehicles and buildings. Emissions of HFCs and the other fluorinated gases represent approximately three percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

CFCs are also a “greenhouse gas” because they absorb heat in the atmosphere, sending some of the absorbed heat back to the surface of the earth and contributing to global warming and climate change

Before CFCs were banned, they were used in aerosols, refrigerators, air conditioners in homes, vehicles and businesses, fire extinguishers, insulating foams, styrofoam food packaging, and cleaning and electronic solvents. CFCs were made with perchloroethylene (PERC).

Prior to 2008, CFCs were still used in inhalers to control asthma, but this use has not been allowed after 2008. They may also be used in research.

How might I be exposed to CFCs?

You can be exposed to CFCs if you use a pre-2008 inhaler that contains CFCs, use older window air conditioners that contain CFCs, or drive an older car with an air conditioner that contains CFCs. If you use an older refrigerator that contains CFCs, you can be exposed if the CFCs leak out of the refrigerator. Older appliances and vehicles need to be carefully handled for safe disposal of the CFCs they contain. 

At work, you can be exposed to CFCs if you work in a facility that recycles CFCs in air conditioners. You can be exposed if you work at a facility that has permission to use recycled or stockpiled CFCs or conducts research that uses them.

How can CFCs affect my health?

Direct exposure to some types of CFCs can cause unconsciousness, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeat. It can also cause confusion, drowsiness, coughing, sore throat, difficulty breathing, and eye redness and pain. Direct skin contact with some types of CFCs can cause frostbite or dry skin. 

When CFCs destroy the ozone layer, harmful ultraviolet rays reach the earth. Exposure to increased ultraviolet rays can cause skin cancer, cataracts, and weakened immune systems.

For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.


Web Links from MedlinePlus (National Library of Medicine)
Indoor Air Pollution
Ozone

More Links
Benefits of the CFC Phaseout (Environmental Protection Agency)
Chlorofluorocarbons. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Environmental Indicators: Ozone Depletion (Environmental Protection Agency)
How to Keep Your Cool and Protect the Ozone Layer (Environmental Protection Agency)
Map of Releases of Freon 113 in the United States. TOXMAP (National Library of Medicine)
Myth: CFCs Are Heavier Than Air, So They Can't Reach the Ozone Layer (Environmental Protection Agency)
Responsible Appliance Disposal (RAD) (Environmental Protection Agency)
Users of Last CFC Inhalers Must Soon Switch (Food and Drug Administration)

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Last Updated: December 17, 2014

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