Freon™ is a family of products developed by the DuPont company in 1928. Through the 1980s, Freon™ was used in a wide variety of applications, until growing evidence suggested that it was contributing to damage in the ozone layer which protects the Earth. In response, alternatives to the products were developed, and several governments have launched initiatives to help people replace products which contain Freon™ so that the products can be safely sequestered.
These products were originally developed for use in refrigeration. They are part of a family of chemicals known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Prior to the production of Freon™, a variety of toxic substances including ammonia were used in refrigeration, causing illness when leaks occurred. Freon™ was viewed as a safe refrigerant because it is nontoxic, noncorrosive, nonflammable, and nonreactive. In the 1930s, use of the chemical in refrigeration systems began to rise dramatically, with manufacturers viewing the products as safer and easier to work with.
In addition to being used as a refrigerant in refrigerators and freezers, Freon™ was also used in air conditioning systems, firefighting systems, and as an aerosol propellant. The widespread production and use of Freon™ led to an accumulation of the chemical in the environment. Eventually, people began to realize that the ozone layer above the Earth was starting to degrade, and CFCs were suspected of being involved, leading to calls to ban the use and additional production of these chemicals.
DuPont and other chemical companies have developed alternatives to Freon™ which are safe for use as refrigerants. However, a high volume of the chemical is still present, and still causing damage to the ozone layer. Old appliances often contain Freon™, which can make them costly to repair if they start to break down. Disposing of old appliances must also be done with care to reduce the risk of allowing the coolant to leak out.
People who are not sure about whether their cooling systems contain Freon™ or not can contact a refrigeration professional to ask to have the system evaluated. If the system does contain Freon™, there may be a variety of ways for dealing with the issue, ranging from using the system until it fails and then replacing it to retrofitting the system so that it can use an alternative to Freon™ as a coolant.
Freon™ leaks are not an immediate risk to human health, except in cases where the coolant leaks out in large quantities. At room temperature, it often reaches a gaseous state, and inhaling the gas can lead to suffocation, because it displaces the oxygen in the air. An HVAC specialist can clean up the leak and address the underlying cause so that it does not occur again.