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Freon Exposure and Your Health

Have you recently found out that your refrigerator or air conditioner has been leaking freon and you are concerned about the effect on your health?

"Freon" is not exact a chemical. "Freon" is actually a trade name that describes a whole class of chemicals used in refrigeration. Most of the chemicals included under the trade name of "Freon" are known as "chlorofluorocarbons." This means that their chemical structure is made up of the main chemical building blocks of carbon and hydrogen, but they also include chlorine and fluorine as well. With out knowing the EXACT version of freon that was used in your refrigerator, one can only comment on the general health effects of freon as a whole.

The most serious side effect of freon exposure would occur at the time of initial exposure. People who have a history of heart problems should be very concerned about Freon because it can cause cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat), and palpitations at very high concentrations. For people who have a history of heart problems, being exposed to small amounts of Freon from leaking appliances should not pose any significant health risk.

Fortunately, Freon does not have serious long term health consequences. It is not a carcinogen, teratogen, or mutagen, and it does not damage the liver. When it is inhaled, it is rapidly excreted by exhalation, and it is not significantly accumulated in the body. This means that breathing low concentrations of freon from a leaking refrigerator or air conditioner over a long period of time is unlikely to have a cumulative effect, and thus few, if any, long term health effects.

When trying to figure out how much Freon you have been exposed to, there are several things to keep in mind. First, there is a finite amount of Freon contained in the refrigeration system, so you can't be exposed to any more than what is actually in the system. Second, Freon is about 4 times heavier than air, so it is going to sink to the floor initially, though it is highly volatile and will disperse rapidly. What this means is that the closer to the floor that you are, the more Freon you are likely to breathe in. This is a concern especially for children and pets, children because they are smaller and thus require smaller doses for acute effects to occur, and pets, especially dogs, because they are more sensitive to the heart sensitizing effects of Freon than humans are.

If you discover that you have a Freon leak, contact a technician for repairs immediately. Open up windows and doors and use fans to help move the air out of the area. Remove yourself and your pets to an area of fresh air, and if you feel any unusual health effects, seek medical care. If you have chronic heart conditions, consider having your Freon containing appliances checked regularly for leaks. 

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This page was updated on 17-Nov-2012