why is freon bad for the environment

Why is Freon Bad for the Environment?

Last Updated on August 29, 2023 by Krystine

Freon became widely used in refrigerators and air conditioners during the 20th century due to its cooling properties and perceived inertness.

However, we now understand the severe environmental repercussions of these chlorofluorocarbons.

This article will analyze the multifaceted impacts of Freon on the atmosphere.

Why is Freon Bad for the Environment?

A technician refilling freon
Freon is colorless, odorless, nonflammable, noncorrosive gases or liquids of low toxicity that were introduced as refrigerants in the 1930s. Image Credit: NRDC

Freon is extremely damaging to the environment because it depletes the ozone layer which protects us from harmful UV radiation.

When released into the air, Freon molecules break down ozone through chlorine catalysis reactions.

This ozone depletion allows increased UV rays to reach Earth, increasing the risks of skin cancer and harming ecosystems.

Key Points

  • Freon persistently destroys ozone, enabling more dangerous UV rays to penetrate the atmosphere.
  • The Montreal Protocol is phasing out Freon given its public health and environmental hazards.
  • Alternatives like ammonia and propane reduce the environmental and health damages of Freon.

How Does Freon Harm the Ozone Layer?

Freon degrades the atmosphere’s protective ozone layer through:

Chlorine Catalysis

UV rays cleave chlorine atoms off Freon molecules.

This chlorine catalyzes ozone depletion reactions.

Long Atmospheric Lifespan

Freon persists for over 75 years in the stratosphere.

Prolonged ozone layer exposure multiplies damage.

Potent Ozone Depletion

Pound for pound, Freon can destroy thousands of times more ozone than other ozone-harming chemicals.

UV Radiation Allowance

Thinned ozone layers permit higher UVB radiation levels that increase human skin cancer risks.

Through catalytic reactions accelerated by its stability, Freon exacts an immense toll on stratospheric ozone.

Why is Freon Being Phased Out?

Freon is being phased out worldwide under the Montreal Protocol due to:

Ozone Layer Recovery

Phasing out Freon allows the Antarctic ozone hole to heal by mid-century, restoring atmospheric UV radiation protection.

Cancer Risk Reduction

Lower UV exposure will prevent millions of additional skin cancer cases compared to continued Freon use.

Compliance With International Law

Signatory nations must halt Freon production and transition to alternatives to comply with Protocol mandates.

Better Understanding of Risks

As Freon’s ozone destruction emerged, officials acted to curb its manufacture and consumption under the Protocol.

Given the clear environmental and public health hazards posed, completing Freon’s global phase-out is a vital ecological priority.

What Sustainable Refrigerant Alternatives Exist?

AC technician fixing an air conditioning unit
Sniffing Freon is extremely dangerous and can lead to long-term brain damage and sudden death. Image Credit: Conditioning Air INC.

Viable sustainable refrigerant options include:


Used for over a century, ammonia does not deplete ozone, but it is toxic and flammable.

Strict safety protocols are essential.


Carbon dioxide has a small environmental footprint but requires high-pressure systems.

It works well in cold climates.


Propane and isobutane have very low global warming potential but are extremely flammable.


Some next-generation hydrofluorocarbons like HFO-1234yf  and r134a have reduced environmental impacts, but concerns over toxicity and flammability exist.


Using water as the refrigerant is environmentally safe, but inefficient energy-wise.

While each alternative has disadvantages, all represent a major improvement over ozone-destroying Freon.

How Does Freon Affect The Environment?

Freon severely harms the environment in multiple ways:

When released into the air, Freon molecules float up to the ozone layer in the stratosphere.

Here, UV rays cleave chlorine atoms of the Freon.

The freed chlorine atoms then catalyze ozone depletion reactions, breaking down the ozone that protects us from UV rays.

A single chlorine atom can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules.

Freon is an especially potent destroyer because it is very stable, persisting over 75 years in the atmosphere and causing prolonged ozone degradation.

Thinning of the ozone layer leads to increased UVB radiation reaching Earth’s surface.

This added UV exposure damages DNA and causes skin cancer and cataracts in humans and animals while harming plants.

It also suppresses immune systems.

Overall, Freon inflicts severe environmental harm through ozone depletion that enables dangerous levels of UV radiation to penetrate Earth, threatening public and ecosystem health.

Does Freon Contribute To Global Warming?

While Freon is not a greenhouse gas, its use does indirectly contribute to global warming in a couple of key ways:

Phasing out Freon requires transitioning to replacement refrigerants.

Many common replacements like hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) have very high global warming potential through being potent greenhouse gases if leaked.

Generating the electricity needed to power the compressors and cooling systems of the refrigerators and air conditioners that use Freon releases substantial carbon dioxide emissions.

More units in use indirectly cause more emissions.

However, the direct global warming impact is smaller than the massive ozone depletion caused by Freon.

The larger threat is increased UV radiation from ozone degradation that Freon causes.

Does Freon Hurt The Ozone?

Yes, Freon severely damages Earth’s protective ozone layer.

When Freon molecules float up into the stratosphere, UV rays cleave off their chlorine atoms.

This free chlorine then accelerates chemical reactions that break down ozone molecules.

Even small amounts of Freon can destroy significant ozone due to these catalytic reactions.

Ozone layer thinning then allows hazardous UVB radiation to reach the Earth’s surface, causing skin cancer and harming ecosystems.

This is why the Montreal Protocol is phasing out Freon and other ozone-depleting substances worldwide.

Key Takeaways on Freon and the Environment

  • Freon destroys ozone, allowing increased UV radiation through the atmosphere.
  • The Montreal Protocol is phasing out Freon worldwide given its public health dangers.
  • Alternative refrigerants like ammonia and CO2 reduce environmental and health hazards.

Given its immense ozone depletion potential, phasing out damaging Freon compounds is paramount to restoring the ozone layer for the sake of public and environmental health.


How does Freon deplete the ozone layer?

When Freon molecules float up to the stratosphere, UV rays cleave off their chlorine atoms. This free chlorine then catalyzes chemical reactions destroying ozone molecules.

Why is the Montreal Protocol phasing out Freon?

The Montreal Protocol is banning Freon because of its severe ozone depletion effects that increase skin cancer risks. Phasing out Freon will allow the Antarctic ozone hole to recover by mid-century.

What are some eco-friendly refrigerant alternatives?

Sustainable refrigerant options include ammonia, carbon dioxide, propane, and next-generation HFCs. While not perfect, these alternatives do not destroy ozone like Freon.

GreenChiCafe is passionate about the environment and our natural world.

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