Health & Safety Glossary

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

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What are Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)?

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are generally a mixture of chemicals that are commonly used as a refrigerant. They are used as propellants in aerosol sprays too. CFCs generally contain different substances, including fluorine, carbon, chlorine, and hydrogen.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are generally colorless and odorless, which is why they are a bit more difficult to detect. CFCs are generally quite volatile, and start evaporating immediately when they’re exposed to open air. 

That is one of the main reasons why they can be inhaled so easily. Even though CFCs are considered non-toxic, exposure (commonly through inhalation) can result in respiratory issues and may even cause a person to lose consciousness. 

In some cases, CFCs can result in arrhythmia. Some people also experience skin or eye irritation as a result. 

 

The Importance of Finding Substitutes for Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

Because of its wide-ranging applications, CFCs are commonly used in a variety of industries. From their use in refrigeration to aerosol sprays and in packing materials, CFCs play an important role in various applications. 

CFCs are generally inert in the lower atmosphere, so their release isn’t immediately harmful. However, as CFCs reach the upper atmosphere, the change in the atmospheric composition results in a significant reaction. 

For starters, a study in 1974 showed that CFCs are one of the prime sources for the release of inorganic chlorine within the stratosphere. That released chlorine then causes a depletion of the ozone layer, an important gas that prevents ultraviolet radiation from reaching the ground. 

As a result, in 1987, around 27 nations signed a treaty, known as the Montreal Protocol to Reduce Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.  An excessive release of CFCs is one of the major causes of ozone depletion. 

Ozone depletion then creates a knock-on effect, resulting in:

  • Harmful exposure to UV radiation which leads to skin cancer or other diseases
  • Damage to a person’s immune system
  • Damage to both plant and marine life

Climate Change

Apart from reacting with gases in the upper atmosphere to destroy the ozone layer, CFCs also capture heat within the lower atmosphere. Ultimately, this causes temperatures to rise, and results in climate change. 

Both CFCs and HFCs are responsible for capturing infrared radiation within the lower atmosphere along with other greenhouse gases. According to one research study, CFCs and HFCs are directly responsible for around 11.5% of the current impact on the climate. 

Climate change has resulted in a series of harmful effects on the world, including:

  • Rising sea levels as glaciers begin to melt
  • Loss of habitat and extinction of natural species
  • Heatwaves across the world, resulting in wildfires 
  • Excessive heat stress 
  • An increasing risk to human health caused by diseases 

There are now strict regulations in place for reducing the production of CFCs and HFCs in many countries. Air conditioners and refrigerators produced by manufacturers also require technical certifications to ensure refrigerant recovery and safety standards. 

Effects on Human Health

As mentioned above, CFCs also negatively impact human health. Here are some of the many ways that CFCs affect humans.

Inhalation

Inhaling CFCs affects a person’s central nervous system, causing intoxication. The effects are similar to consuming alcohol, as it results in tremors, convulsions, and even leads to lightheadedness. 

Because it affects the heartbeat, there’s also the risk of sudden death. More importantly, inhaling large amounts of CFCs can result in asphyxiation, which could eventually cause death or long-term organ damage. 

Ingestion or Absorption Through Skin

When humans come in contact with CFCs through ingestion or via skin, it could result in skin irritation. It may cause itchiness, or cause dermatitis.  

If exposed to pressurized CFC leaks, such as from a refrigerator system, there’s a risk that the CFCs could result in frostbite. And, if ingested by accident, CFCs can lead to violet vomiting, diarrhea, or lead to nausea. 

Effect on the Immune System

CFCs can also have a negative effect on a person’s immune system, partially because it affects the central nervous system. According to one study, excessive exposure may cause difficulty in breathing, which could result in permanent damage to the kidneys, liver, or the heart.

 

Introducing Safety Measures in the Workplace When Dealing with CFCs

Businesses that deal with CFCs should consider introducing safety measures to ensure that workers have appropriate safety equipment and understand the risks associated with CFCs. 

From providing workers with necessary information about CFCs and making sure that they wear personal protective equipment, it’s important for companies to ensure that CFC-related incidents are reduced as much as possible.

 

Use EcoOnline’s Chemical Safety Software to Mitigate Risks in the Workplace

EcoOnline’s Chemical Safety Software lets you easily pull up Safety Data Sheets to determine the risk of CFCs. It also helps enforce employee right to know, as any worker can easily access information about chemicals that they might be exposed to in the workplace.