Chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs are compounds of carbon, chlorine and fluorine, this compound is nontoxic and non flammable. These properties made it very suitable for the use as refrigerants and aerosols and many other uses. Chlorofluorocarbons are classified as halocarbons (a compound containing carbon and halogen atoms). The naming of these compounds is CFC followed by the number of atoms of carbon, chlorine and fluorine
CFCs were first synthesized in 1928 by Thomas Midgley while trying to create an alternative to the refrigerants of the time. The refrigerants that were used before this time were compounds such as ammonia and sulfur dioxide which are extremely toxic and had lead to many deaths in the 1920s. It quickly was picked up as being the best new solution and soon mass quantities where being produced. It was then used in 1938 in the first air condition due to it high safety over other compounds. Some places made it a legal requirement to use CFC. After world war two it was then popularized in aerosols. It soon took off world wide in all sorts of products. Many though it was harmless and so large quantities where produced and most ending up in the atmosphere.
CFC compounds are inert in the lower atmosphere and are safe in most applications, however it was not discovered until later that the effect of CFC compounds in the upper atmosphere and its devastating effects were noticed. In 1974, two chemists from the University of California, Professor F. Sherwood Rowland and Dr. Mario Molina showed how the CFC was causing a large amount of unnatural chlorine in the stratosphere. The chlorine atoms react in a catalytic reaction in which a single chlorine atom can react with hundreds of thousand of molecules. This leads to the destruction of the ozone layer which is leading to a hole in the ozone where harmful UV rays from the sun are able to pass into the lower atmosphere. This could cause serious problems to life on earth.
To prevent further damage to the ozone layer the governments agreed to start to phase out the use of CFC products and find better alternatives. These have been ruled by most governments and was estimated by 2000 that all products in those countries will not contain CFC compounds. However the effects of the CFCs have already been concerning and the long term effects of the ozone hole is unknown. A safer alternative to CFCs on the ozone layer HCFCs is now being used, however the effects of these are unknown as well.
All information here is gathered from http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/hats/publictn/elkins/cfcs.html