Ozone friendly, but toxic

Exposure to chemicals being used as alternatives to CFCs can cause liver damage

Published: Wednesday 15 October 1997

two refrigerants being used to help protect the Earth's ozone layer may lead to liver damage in people, reveals a study. A team of researchers led by Perrine Hoet at the Catholic University of Lounin, Brussels, has confirmed cases of toxic effects in workers exposed to halogenated hydrochlorofluorocarbons, hcfc -123 and hcfc -124. The compounds are being widely used as alternatives to the chlorofluorocarbons ( cfc s) that have largely contributed to the depletion of the ozone layer.

The researchers investigated the epidemic of liver disease in 1996 at an unidentified smelting plant in Belgium. Nearly nine workers at the plant were diagnosed with acute hepatitis. Factory officials found that a plastic pipe in the plant's conditioning system had leaked, exposing workers to a mixture of hcfc -123 and hcfc -124. After the pipe was repaired, no such cases were reported in the plant. The two refrigerants are widely used in a variety of industrial applications either as coolants or cleaning agents.

Medical examination of these patients showed significant damage of their livers. The researchers have published the study in The Lancet which establishes that repeated exposure to these compounds can lead to serious liver injury in people. Noting the hazardous effects of the refrigerants, the researchers have urged for strict measures to prevent accidental exposure to these compounds.

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