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 linked CFCs to the depletion of the ozone layer, they have been largely phased out, but old refrigerators and other devices that use CFCs might still be in service. 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.
Inhalation of CFCs affects the central nervous system, according to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Sciences. The result is intoxication similar to that produced by alcohol, including lightheadedness, headaches, tremors and convulsions. Inhalation of CFCs can also disturb the 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 come in 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
CFCs can generally impair the human immune system, and scientists have linked direct expose to problems with the central nervous system . These 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.
Skin Cancer and Eye Damage
CFCs contribute to the loss of the protective ozone layer, which blocks ultraviolet rays from the sun. This exposes more people to UV radiation, which can cause skin cancer. According to the University of Georgia, one in five Americans develops skin cancer in his or her lifetime. Even if they don't develop skin cancer, some individuals experience wrinkled, thick or leathery skin from too much sun exposure. Additionally, increased contact with ultraviolet rays can cause cataracts, macular degeneration and other eye damage.
- National Library of Medicine: Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
- New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services: Chlorofluorocarbons Health Information Summary
- Scottish Environment Protection Agency: Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Preventing Death from Excessive Exposure to Chlorofluorocarbon 113
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.