Posted by: Green Knight | October 16, 2010

CFCs I Didn’t Know About

I used to get a bit agitated at Earth Day events when people would talk about how they only buy spray cans that say “CFC-Free,” or “Ozone-Friendly,” because chlorofluorocarbons were banned from the vast majority of commercially available spray cans in 1978 in the US, and the Montreal Protocol of 1989 extended this to most of the rest of the industrialized world.  Certain industrial uses were exempted, such as in cans of compressed air used to spray dust out of electronic components, but that amounts to only about 2% of cans in the US.  However, I recently discovered that until 3 years ago, CFC propellants were still used in asthma inhalers, now having been replaced primarily by (more expensive) HFAs, or hydrofluoroalkanes.  Who knew?  I know many people who have an inhaler in their purse or backpack, so it may have been a relatively large source.  It’s perverse that a group of chemicals that is so non-reactive and non-toxic at ground level should BECOME reactive and destroy ozone 8 to 25 miles up.

CFCs are non-toxic,as I said, yet EPA’s “listed” hazardous waste ID code F001, consisting of halogenated solvents used in degreasing,  includes chlorinated fluorocarbons, and F001 wastes are listed solely for the characteristic of toxicity.  When I was still a State hazardous waste inspector, I noted this contradiction and called EPA to find out what the story was.  Their convoluted explanation was that CFCs destroy ozone, which can cause deleterious health effects due to more ultraviolet exposure.  True enough, but that’s not a “toxic” effect, and the Clean Air Act already covers the ozone issue.  I suppose it was just a failsafe measure, but not logical according to their own definitions.  Well, I could devote a short book to weird glitches and blind spots in the regulations, but not for free, y’know?  There’s a great “Dilbert” t-shirt I’d love to have, showing Dogbert sitting behind a desk, with a sign on the desk saying “I’m Not Unemployed, I’m A Consultant.”  Or as I like to say, self-employment is a lot like unemployment, but the pay’s less regular.

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