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Refrigerator disposal releases ozone-depleting chemicals

Shredded foam insulation from junked refrigerators is releasing substantial amounts of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, into the earth's atmosphere — and the more finely shredded the foam, the faster the release, a Danish researcher reports.

The first study looking at how and how fast CFC gas releases from foam insulation used in older refrigerators is reported in the July 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

More than eight million refrigerators and freezers in the United States reach the end of their useful lives and are thrown away annually, generally ending up at a landfill where they are shredded to recover scrap metal. Shredding one discarded refrigerator can quickly release more than 100 grams of CFC-11 into the environment, reports Peter Kjeldsen, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Technical University of Denmark. All 500 grams of CFC gas in the insulation of each refrigerator — a total of nearly 4,000 tons of CFC emissions — can eventually seep from the appliances over the next 300 years, he said.

"The future atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11, and their effect on the ozone layer, will mainly depend on the continued release from insulation foams," Kjeldsen said.

Comparing their laboratory CFC-release rates to computer models, the researchers found that all CFC gas embedded in the energy-saving insulation is slowly, but surely, released after the foam is ripped apart. The smaller the size of the shredded foam, the faster the release, he noted. Some other countries, including Denmark, dispose of the foam before scrapping the refrigerator, which eliminates most CFC emissions, Kjeldsen said.

Although CFCs were developed in the 1930s, the majority of the CFC emissions are coming from refrigerators made during the 1980s, when a new type of insulating foam featuring the material was used. The applia
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Contact: Beverly Hassell
b_hassell@acs.org
202-872-4065
American Chemical Society
17-Jun-2001


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