> Refrigerant Gases, the Ozone Layer and the Law
Developed in the 1930’s to replace hazardous material such as sulfur dioxide and ammonia, Chlorofluorocarbons, or CFC’s, were long considered the ideal refrigerant. Inexpensive and efficient, they are also non-toxic, non-flammable, and non-corrosive. But there was a catch. The “chemical stability” properties that make CFCs an effective refrigerant also make them an environmental hazard. If released into the atmosphere, CFC molecules can migrate to the top of the atmosphere and remain up to 300 years before breaking down into harmless substances.
In the years after their introduction, the use of CFCs experienced dramatic growth, not only for use in air conditioning and refrigeration equipment, but also in countless industrial applications, including:
- Propellant for aerosol cans
- Blowing agent for insulating foam
- Foam padding in furniture
- Halon fire extinguishers
- Automotive air conditioning
- Highly evaporative cleaning solvents
- Inhalers for asthma sufferers
In the mid-1970s scientists hypothesized that growing levels of CFC gases in the upper atmosphere were accelerating the seasonal thinning of the ozone layer – the layer that shields the earth’s surface from exposure to the development of harmful levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. CFCs have also been identified as potent greenhouse gases, capable of trapping heat within the earth’s atmosphere. (Links to more comprehensive environmental resources can be found on our Useful Links page.)
In response to the threat to the ozone layer, Congress passed the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act. This legislation requires anyone owning, servicing, repairing, or disposing of equipment containing CFC gases to properly manage all CFC refrigerant gases in an environmentally responsible manner.