Missoula Technology and Development Center Facilities Toolbox: Hazardous Substances in Buildings
Engineering Home | Toolbox Home

Are fluorocarbons still an issue in refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners?

Yes, they are.

Most refrigerants found in air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers contain fluorocarbons, and many fluorocarbon compounds contain chlorine. Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) refrigerants were commonly used in equipment manufactured before 1995. Equipment manufactured before 2010 may use hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerant. Some newer equipment uses hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which contain no chlorine.

The Clean Air Act outlines specific refrigerant containment and management practices. Basically, all CFC and HCFC refrigerants must be recovered, recycled, and reclaimed during servicing and repairs. This means relying on an EPA-certified ("section 608 certification") service technician to repair refrigeration systems, because they have equipment to assure that refrigerants are handled as required. Don't do it yourself, and don't haul old equipment to the dump without having the refrigerant recovered first.

The atmospherically benign HFC refrigerants will remain in production, but CFC and HCFC refrigerants will be phased out. Production of CFCs ceased in 1995. HCFC production will cease in 2020 (HCFC-22) or 2030 (HCFC-123). This means that although equipment that uses these refrigerants may operate just fine for 20 or 30 years, new or recycled refrigerant to service it may not be available. Don't buy equipment that uses CFC refrigerants. Consider product life and future availability of refrigerant when considering purchasing equipment that uses HCFC refrigerants. If possible, avoid purchasing equipment that uses HCFCs.

Photo of the outside of a storage shed or garage.Tree coolers are generally the biggest refrigeration systems in the Forest Service. Because they are so expensive, it may be more economical to convert them to another refrigerant than to replace the refrigeration system.

Health Issues: CFCs and HCFCs are lighter than air, so they rise into the stratosphere, where ultraviolet light frees the chlorine. A single chlorine atom can destroy thousands of ozone molecules, thinning the Earth’s protective ozone layer. The ozone layer is important because it moderates the radiation the earth receives from the sun. A thinner ozone layer means more skin cancers and cataracts. Marine and terrestrial plants may be harmed as well.


Facilities Toolbox Home Page

Back | Next