The History of Freon

From the late 1800s until 1929, refrigerators used toxic gases, such as ammonia, methyl chloride, and sulfur dioxide, as refrigerants. Leakages of these harmful gases from refrigerators resulted in some fatal accidents. People started leaving their refrigerators in their backyard. A collaborative effort began towards developing a new way of refrigeration.

In 1928, Thomas Midgley, Jr. invented a "miracle compound" called Freon. Freon represents several different chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs. Freons are colorless, odorless, nonflammable, noncorrosive gases or liquids. In 1930, the Kinetic Chemical Company was formed to start the production Freon. Because Freon is non-toxic, it eliminated the danger posed by refrigerator leaks. A few years later, freon became the standard refrigerant used in refrigerators. The breakthrough of freon was very exciting to people around the world. It wasn't until decades later when people realized that the CFCs endangered the ozone layer of the entire planet.

Where's Freon Found?

Until recently, freon has been used as a coolant in commercial and industrial air conditioners and as an ingredient in aerosol sprays. Freon is also used as a refrigerant in some refrigerators.

Dangers to the Environment

Freon usually doesn't cause immediate environmental harm, but it will most likely remain in the air long enough to reach the upper atmosphere. Once it reaches the atmosphere it can be a source of chlorine atoms that damage the Earth's ozone layer. Ozone damage in the upper atmosphere can lead to and increased amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that reaches the surface, affecting the environment in ways such as global warming.

Dangers to Human Health

Freon can enter the body when it's breathed in with contaminated air or consumed with contaminated food or water. It can also be absorbed through skin contact. Breathing large amounts of freon for short periods of time have effects on the human nervous system. Effects range from dizziness to incoordination and irregular heart beat. These effects are not likely to occur at levels of freon that are normally found in the environment.

How To Handle Freon Responsibly

Along with prohibiting the production of ozone-depleting refrigerants, the Clean Air Act mandates the use of common sense in handling refrigerants. By containing and using freon responsibly -- that is, by recovering, recycling, and reclaiming, and by reducing leaks -- their ozone depletion and global warming consequences are minimized. One important thing a homeowner can do for the environment, regardless of the refrigerant used, is to select a dependable dealer that employs service technicians who are EPA-certified to handle refrigerants.


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