|Occupational Health and Safety
Hazardous Substances: Fluorocarbons
What are Fluorocarbons?
Fluorocarbons are a group of chemicals made up of hydrocarbons which always contain fluorine, often contain chlorine and
sometimes other chemicals. Generally, these compounds are colourless, nonflammable gases though a few are liquids at room
Freon is a trademark for a number of fluorocarbons.
What are they used for?
The fluorocarbons are used primarily as refrigerants and in the production of polyurethane foam insulation. They are also used as
aerosol propellants, anesthetics, fire extinguishers, foam flowing agents, in dry cleaning, and in de-greasing of electronic equipment.
Adverse health effects occur both from the fluorocarbons themselves and from the chemicals into which they decompose. The types
of effects depend upon the types of fluorocarbons to which people are exposed.
Chlorofluoromethanes (Fluorocarbons which contain chlorine) can decompose into hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride, phosgene,
carbon dioxide and chlorine after contact with an open flame or hot metal.
The contact with some of these decomposition products can produce lung irritation up to and including death caused by pulmonary
edema (lungs fill with fluid) as well as skin irritation and irritation of the mucous membranes.
Exposure to high concentrations of fluorocarbons can produce central nervous system depression which can result in occasional
tremor, lack of coordination, dizziness and unconsciousness.
Cardiac arrhythmais (irregular heart beat) and rapid heart beat as well as sudden death from heart failure have occurred from
breathing some of these chemicals.
Liver and kidney damage have resulted from long-term exposure to fluoroalkenes.
Adverse respiratory effect include constriction of the bronchi and bronchopneumonia.
Decomposition products can produce a condition called "polymer fume fever" which consists of fever, chills, nausea, and headache.
Chlorofluorocarbons rise through the atmosphere until reaching the stratosphere, 10 to 50 kilometers above the earth’s surface
where they react with the ozone. The ozone is thus depleted. The stratosphere’s ozone layer is then less able to protect us from
ultraviolet radiation. More ultraviolet radiation produces skin cancer in people and will affect plant and animal life as well.
The use of chlorofluorocarbons in industrial and domestic use must be reduced as much as possible in order to protect the
The most important thing to do is to identify which fluorocarbon you are working with. As you can see from the above information,
the family of fluorocarbons produce a wide variety of effects which depend upon the type of fluorocarbon you are exposed to.
Adequate ventilation should be used with all fluorocarbons.
Since many react with heat or flame, smoking should be prohibited where workers are exposed to fluorocarbon gases. Exposure to
open flame or hot metal should be prohibited.
All steps possible should be taken to keep occupational exposure to decomposition products of fluorocarbons as near to zero as
Source: CAW Health, Safety & Environment Department