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What Is Trichlorofluoromethane?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated May 17, 2024
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Trichlorofluoromethane is a chemical that has industrial uses such as refrigeration. The chemical is a chlorofluorocarbon and is detrimental to the ozone layer. Therefore, the uses and production of trichlorofluoromethane is restricted in many countries. It is also known by such names as Freon-11®, Refrigerant-11, and Arcton 9®.

At normal ambient temperatures, trichlorofluoromethane is a liquid, but at 75 degrees Fahrenheit (23.7 degrees Celsius) it boils and turns into a gas. The liquid is colorless and almost odorless. It freezes at -167 degrees Fahrenheit (about -111 degrees Celsius). Each molecule of trichlorofluoromethane contains one carbon atom, three chlorine atoms, and one fluorine atom, for a chemical formula of CCL3F. It is not flammable.

Before the adverse effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer were well known, trichlorofluoromethane was a popular chemical in aerosols and in industrial plastic foam production. It was also used as a degreaser, as a solvent, and as an ingredient in fire extinguishers. The Montreal Protocol of 1989, which many countries have signed, restricted the production and use of the chemical due to its impact on ozone depletion.

The U.S., for example, stopped production of the chemical in 1996, although the reserve stocks were legally usable after this point. Hydrochlorofluorocarbons replaced the restricted chlorofluorocarbons, like trichlorofluoromethane, after the protocol came into force. One such replacement is the hydrochlorofluorocarbon HCFC-121b.

All trichlorofluoromethane in use eventually makes its way into the atmosphere as a gas and thereby affects the ozone layer. It is also soluble in water up to a concentration of 0.145 percent, and people can ingest the chemical through drinking water. Despite concerns about the potential for this form of contamination, ingestion of the substance in this way is not regarded as a public health issue. The chemical does not cause cancer in humans.

Risks to health from the chemical include asphyxiation when the gas is present in high levels as the affected person cannot absorb enough oxygen from the trichlorofluoromethane-saturated air. Skin contact can cause dermatitis, and exposure to the pressurized liquid can cause frostbite. Lack of coordination and muscle twitches are signs of inhalation of the gas.

The chemical can also cause irregular heartbeats and even heart attacks, which are correlated with deliberate sniffing of the gas. People who already have a lung condition or heart condition can also have the illness worsened by exposure to the substance. The potential risks of the gas are reduced through correct handling and adequate ventilation.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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