Long Before Tide Pods We Had Freon, And It Is Still A Problem!
There are some articles you wish you never had to write. But the sad truth is that over the past decades, both teens and adults have been hospitalized and even died from abusing the refrigerant Freon. Freon is commonly found in air conditioners and heat pumps.
Those deaths include a 12-year old girl from California who was able to get Freon out of her grandmother’s air conditioner. She was found unconscious in her grandmother’s bedroom. She died a few days later in March of 2013.
Another tragic incident involved a 15-year old boy from Florida who was found unconscious in his neighbor’s yard. He was found next to their air conditioning unit. He died of Freon poisoning two days later. Since his death, his mother has been speaking out about the dangers of Freon abuse.
According to reports from the American Association of Poison Control Centers, thousands of people are hospitalized due to Freon exposure each year. Their 2014 Annual Report lists at least 13 fatalities caused by Freon exposure.
And this isn’t a short-lived new trend. The Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse did a study of deaths in Texas caused by inhalant abuse from 1988-1998. Over that decade, 51 people in Texas died from the abuse of Freon. The ages of those who died ranged from 8 to 62.
We want you to be aware of the dangers of “huffing” Freon. You Need to know the warning signs that could tell you if someone has been abusing the Freon in your HVAC unit. Below is what you need to know to prevent Freon abuse.
What is Huffing?
The term “huffing” refers to the practice of intentionally inhaling chemical vapors in order to become intoxicated or “high.” Inhalant abuse is one of the most common kinds of substance abuse in the United States. This is particularly popular among pre-teens and teenagers.
Huffing Freon produces an effect similar to being extremely drunk but shorter-lasting. Symptoms of Freon intoxication include slurred speech, dizziness, lack of coordination, and euphoria.
How Deadly is Freon?
The dangers of huffing Freon are extreme. According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, a single instance of abusing Freon can cause a syndrome known as Sudden Sniffing Death, or SSD. In SSD, exposure to Freon causes an irregular heart rhythm. This leads to heart failure and death within minutes of huffing the chemical. This can occur the very first time someone uses Freon, or any time after that.
Another danger specific to Freon is respiratory injury and death caused by the sudden freezing of the airways. This can occur any time someone huffs Freon, even the first time.
Chronic abuse of Freon can cause brain damage due to the brain being deprived of oxygen. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that chronic inhalant abuse can cause the brain to shrink and lead to mental impairment. It can even cause severe dementia.
Freon is also highly toxic to the liver, with chronic abuse causing severe and potentially irreversible organ damage.
Obviously, abuse of Freon is extremely dangerous. So how can you know if the Freon in your HVAC system is being abused?
Signs of Freon Abuse
- The major sign to watch out for is that your air conditioner or heat pump keeps needing to be recharged with refrigerant. When your HVAC technician can’t find a leak, that may be a sign. The refrigerant in your air conditioner or heat pump is contained in a closed system. The level should stay constant unless there’s a leak. It can also mean someone is opening up your HVAC and siphoning out the Freon.
- A missing cap inside of the HVAC unit can also be a sign that someone has been opening it up to get at the Freon.
- People abusing Freon often use plastic bags to capture it. Finding plastic bags left around your HVAC unit could be another warning sign.
How Can I Prevent Freon Abuse?
You can also take steps to help prevent anyone from accessing the Freon in your HVAC unit.
- Safety experts recommend having a special locking cap installed on your compressor. You’ll need an HVAC technician to install one of these caps, which can only be opened with a key.
- Put a fence around your HVAC unit. However, it’s very important that the fence is far enough away from the unit to allow proper airflow and so that your HVAC technician has enough room to work on the unit when necessary.
- Place a lock on the gate.
- Talk about the dangers of inhalant abuse with the pre-teens and teenagers in your family.
See Also: Protect Your HVAC in Severe Weather
Often, young people don’t realize how dangerous huffing is. It’s particularly important that they know abusing inhalants like Freon can be deadly even the very first time someone tries it. Knowing the dangers of huffing Freon is the first step to preventing more tragedies like the ones that have devastated so many families already. Working together, we can stop Freon abuse.