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Green Corner




An A-Z of the environment & issues

by Peter Hatswell



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F is for Fluorocarbons


These are a man-made compounds of flourine and carbon most (in)famously coupled with chlorine to produce a propellant for aerosol cans and a refrigerant for fridges, freezers and air conditioners. It’s main drawback was that when it escaped it combined with ozone in the upper atmosphere to create vast holes in the protective layer which covers our planet. Thinning of this layer allows more ultra violet radiation from the sun to reach us, causing skin damage in humans, animals and plants.


CFC and HCFCs have thankfully been replaced by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) which do not react with ozone but unfortunately are a potent addition to greenhouse gases leading to the acceleration of global warming. In fact HFCs are between 100 and 3000 times more damaging than carbon dioxide and can last for hundreds of years in the atmosphere.


Fortunately they are not emitted in large quantities so the overall effect is only 2.2% in the UK but it is important to prevent its escape in the home by taking great care when moving or cleaning around the back of your fridge or freezer and to have your old appliances disposed of by a reputable contractor.


Air conditioning and climate control in cars and buildings is an expanding market for refrigerants with propane and isobutane being the most promising sustitutes for HFCs. Ironically, atmospheric pollution which can lead to the onset of asthma, is treated in those victims by the latest MDI inhalers containing HFC, which shows how important it is to minimise pollution in the first place.


P.S. Some good news released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in August shows that the ozone hole over Antarctica was recovering mainly due to the banning of CFCs under the Montreal protocol and should heal over in the next 60 years. If developing countries show equal respect for this treaty and the black marketeers in CFCs are rooted out, the world’s protective layer will return for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.




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