Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

By Aparna Sinnathurai

Chlorofluorocarbons also known as "CFC" are a group of compounds which are covalently bonded containing the elements chlorine, fluorine and carbon. At room temperatures, they are usually colourless gases or liquids which evaporate easily. They are generally unreactive and stable, non-toxic and non-flammable.The properties of CFCs make them useful for a variety of industrial and commercial purposes: as a propellant in aerosol sprays (now banned in the US and Europe), in refrigeration and air conditioning systems, in foams, in cleaning solvents and in electrical components.

CFCs are classified as halocarbons and a numbering system is used for fluorinated alkanes, prefixed with Freon-, R-, CFC-, and HCFC-. The rightmost value indicates the number of fluorine atoms, the next value to the left is the number of hydrogen atoms plus 1, and the next value to the left is the number of carbon atoms less one (zeroes are not stated). Remaining atoms are chlorine. This is why, Freon-12 indicates a methane derivative (only two numbers) containing two fluorine atoms (the second 2) and no hydrogen (1-1=0). It is therefore CCl2F2.

Another, easier equation that can be applied to get the correct molecular formula of the CFC/R/Freon class compounds is this to take the numbering and add 90 to it. The resulting value will give the number of carbons as the first numeral, the second numeral gives the number of hydrogen atoms, and the third numeral gives the number of fluorine atoms. The rest of the unaccounted carbon bonds are occupied by chlorine atoms. The value of this equation is always a three figure number. An easy example is that of CFC-12, which gives: 90+12=102 -> 1 carbon, 0 hydrogens, 2 fluorine atoms, and hence 2 chlorine atoms resulting in CCl2F2. The main advantage of this method of deducing the molecular composition in comparison with the method described in the paragraph above, is that it gives the number of carbon atoms of the molecule.

Most CFCs have been released to the atmosphere through the use of aerosols containing them and as leakages from refrigeration equipment( ammonia (NH3), methyl chloride (CH3Cl), and sulfur dioxide (SO2), as refrigerants. Other releases may occur from industry producing and using them and other products containing them. There are not thought to be any natural sources of CFCs to the environment.

Their usage grew enormously over the years: From

One of the elements that make up CFCs is chlorine. Very little chlorine exists naturally in the atmosphere. But it turns out that CFCs are an excellent way of introducing chlorine into the ozone layer. The ultraviolet radiation at this altitude breaks down CFCs, freeing the chlorine. Under the proper conditions, this chlorine has the potential to destroy large amounts of ozone. This has indeed been observed, especially over Antarctica. As a consequence, levels of genetically harmful ultraviolet radiation have increased.Production of new stocks ceased in most countries as of 1994 However many countries still require aircraft to be fitted with halon fire suppression systems because no safe and completely satisfactory alternative has been discovered for this application. There are also a few other, highly specialized uses. These programs recycle halon through "halon banks" coordinated by the Halon Recycling Corporation to ensure that discharge to the atmosphere occurs only in a genuine emergency and to conserve remaining stocks.

Chlorofluorocarbons enter the body primarily by inhalation of air containing chlorofluorocabons, but can also enter by ingestion of contaminated water, or by dermal contact with chlorofluorocarbons. Inhalation of high levels of chlorofluorocarbons can affect the lungs, central nervous system, heart, liver and kidneys. Symptoms of exposure to chlorofluorocarbons can include drowsiness, slurred speech, disorientation, tingling sensations and weakness in the limbs. Exposure to extremely high levels of chlorofluorocarbons can result in death. Ingestion of chlorofluorocarbons can lead to nausea, irritation of the digestive tract and diarrhoea. Dermal contact with chlorofluorocarbons can cause skin irritation and dermatitis. Chlorofluorocarbons are involved in the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer resulting in increased exposure to UV radiation which is known to cause skin cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated chlorofluoromethane and chlorodifluoromethane as being not classifiable as to their carcinogenicity to humans. However, exposure to chlorofluorocarbons at normal background levels is unlikely to have any adverse effect on human health.

Work on alternatives for chlorofluorocarbons in refrigerants began in the late 1970s after the first warnings of damage to stratospheric ozone were published. The hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) are less stable in the lower atmosphere, enabling them to break down before reaching the ozone layer. Later alternatives lacking the chlorine, the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) have an even shorter lifetimes in the lower atmosphere. One of these compounds, HFC-134a, is now used in place of CFC-12 inautomobile air conditioners. Hydrocarbon refrigerants (a propane/isobutane blend) are also used extensively in mobile air conditioning systems in Australia, the USA and many other countries, as they have excellent thermodynamic properties and perform particularly well in high ambient temperatures. One of the natural refrigerants (along with Ammonia and Carbon Dioxide), hydrocarbons have minor environmental impacts and are also used worldwide in domestic and commercial refrigeration applications, and are becoming available in new split system air conditioners.

Use of CFC'S: (from

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