What Effects do Chlorofluorocarbons Have on Humans?

By Cara Batema; Updated April 25, 2017
CFCs were once widely used in refrigerators.

Chlorofluorocarbons, commonly referred to as CFCs, are non-combustible liquids that were, at one time, frequently used as refrigerants and aerosol propellants, as well as for cleaning products. Since scientists discovered CFCs caused the depletion of the ozone layer, CFCs have been phased out, but old refrigerators and other devices that use CFCs might still be in use. Through inhalation, digestion or other physical contact, as well as from exposure to harmful levels of ultraviolet rays, CFCs can have a negative impact on human health.

Skin Cancer and Eye Damage

Since CFCs contribute greatly to the loss of the protective ozone layer, which blocks ultraviolet rays from the sun, spending too much time in this direct sunlight can cause skin cancer. According to the University of Georgia, one in five Americans develops skin cancer. Even without the occurrence of skin cancers, some individuals experience premature aging -- meaning the skin becomes wrinkled, thick or leathery -- from too much sun exposure. Also, increased contact with ultraviolet rays can cause cataracts, macular degeneration and other eye damage.

Inhaling CFCs

Inhalation of CFCs affects the central nervous system, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences. The result is intoxication similar to alcohol intake and also includes lightheadedness, headaches, tremors and convulsions. Inhalation of CFCs can also disturb heart rhythm, which can lead to death. Exposure to large amount of CFCs could potentially cause asphyxiation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other CFC Exposure

Humans can also come into contact with CFCs through ingestion or skin contact. After dermal interaction with CFCs, some people might have skin irritation, or dermatitis. According to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences, exposure to pressurized CFCs, such as that from a refrigerant leak, can cause frostbite on the skin. Direct skin exposure to CFCs has not been linked to cancer, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Ingestion of CFCs can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or other upset to the digestive tract.

Immune System Deficiency

Since direct exposure to CFCs is linked to negative effects with the central nervous system, these substances can generally impair the human immune system. Problems might include difficulty breathing or injury to the heart, kidneys and liver. The University of Georgia also reports that overexposure to the sun suppresses overall immune function or the skin’s natural defenses.

About the Author

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.