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Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)


SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
100 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
HFCs are a group of man-made chemicals containing the elements carbon, hydrogen and fluorine. They are colourless, odourless and unreactive gases.
What is it used for?
HFCs are mainly used in refrigeration and air conditioning equipment and as propellants in industrial aerosols (replacing the formerly used CFCs and HCFCs which have been shown to damage the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere). HFCs are also used for foam blowing, solvent cleaning and in fire extinguishers.
Where does it come from?
The main sources of HFCs are from the manufacture of, leakage from and end of life disposal of refrigeration and air conditioning equipment and aerosols. HFCs are entirely man-made - there are no natural sources.
How might it affect the environment?
Releases of HFCs do not cause damage at a local level. They do however have a global environmental effect, as greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. Although their "global warming potential" is high (100-3000 times that of carbon dioxide), the relatively small amounts involved mean that they play a small role compared to other greenhouse gases. HFCs can persist in the environment for up to hundreds of years because of their high stability.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
At environmental concentrations HFCs pose little threat to human health. At higher concentrations that might result from an accidental release or in occupational settings, they are thought to be mildly toxic and possibly carcinogenic.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol, 1997) introduced measures designed to achieve reduction of greenhouse gas releases (including HFCs). Amongst the other signaturies from around the world, the UK government (including Scotland) is committed to reaching targets of reduction of HFC emissions by 2008-2012.