Global Warming and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

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Global Warming and Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

Chlorofluorocarbons are non-toxic, non-flammable chemicals that are mainly used in the manufacturing of aerosols, blowing agents for foams and packing materials, as solvents, and as refrigerants. They are classified as Halocarbons, a class of compounds that contain carbon and halogen atoms, and are amongst a group of substances called “greenhouse gases”. They eat away at our ozone and raise the temperature of our planet significantly, causing detrimental damage to our planet.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) are a man-made substance that did not previously exist to the industrial area. They are a product of a collaboration of three American companies – Frigidaire, General Motors, and Du Pont -- after a series of fatal accidents during the 1920’s where toxic gases, (Methyl Chloride), used as refrigerants leaked from refrigerators. Thomas Midgley, Jr. of General Motors first synthesized CFC’s in 1928, and later, on December 31, 1928, Frigidaire was issued the first patent for this formula. CFC’s went under the trade name of Freon (11 and 12), licensed by Du Pont, and by 1935, they and their competitors had sold over eight million new refrigerators in the United States containing the substance. Because of the CFC safety record for non-toxicity, especially when compared to that of previously used substances for coolants, Freon became the preferred substance in large air-conditioning systems. Public health codes in many American cities were even revised to mandate the use of Freon. Soon thereafter the production and use of CFC’s took off, ranging from propellants for bug sprays, paints, hair conditioners, and in air-conditioning in automobiles. (See appendices 1) Peak annual sales of the product worldwide reached over one billion dollars US, and more then one million metric tons were produced.

CFC’s at ground level are perfectly safe, being inert at lower atmospheric levels, but they do undergo a significant reaction in the upper atmosphere or stratosphere. The first proof of this was in 1974 when a study by two university professors showed that CFC’s went through a process called “Photolytic Decomposition” (see appendices 2) thereby releasing chlorine atoms into the atmosphere where they would become active in the destruction of the Ozone. A loss of the stratospheric ozone would result in higher levels of ha...

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...of CO2), they have a much shorter life span, of about 13 years. The Copenhagen Amendment calls for their elimination by 2020. The HFC’s are considered to be the best substitute to CFC’s, as they do not contain chlorine (the substance that destroys ozone), their inability to trap heat and their short lifespan. In America, all new air conditioners in automobiles contain HFC’s, and their rate of use is growing rapidly, at a rate of 100% a year.

After nearly a century of use, CFC’s have finally been almost totally eliminated from production on the face of the planet. It seems as though we have finally taken a step in the right direction as far as preserving our ozone and our climate. Unfortunately, the repercussions of CFC’s will not go away anytime in the near future. Their effects will be felt well into the next century, as they continue to eat up what remains of our ozone and heat up our planet. Even after all of the CFC’s have decomposed, it will take generations before the ozone can begin to regenerate. That is one positive aspect of all this, and our future depends on it -- the damage done today is not irreversible -- but without immediate and drastic action, it will be.

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