Chlorocarbon Compounds

Chlorocarbon compounds have changed the process of keeping foods cool and fresh.  For years, people have used ice to keep things cold.  This concept is based on the principle that ice absorbs heat from its surroundings as it melts away.  However, replacing ice constantly was tedious and nearly impossible to keep up with.  There was a great need for a new refrigerant system, that would keep food cool but not have to be constantly replaced.   Scientists began researching ways to produce a refrigerator that involved the liquid and vapor phases.  Around 1851, James Harrison invented an ether-based vapor-compression refrigerator for an Australian brewery.  Alexander Twining also invented a similar refrigerator around this time.  These two men are thought of the first developers of the common refrigerator.  Most common refrigerants of the time produced various problems.  They would either decompose, were fire hazards, were poisonous, or smelled terrible.  A new refrigerant was needed to meet the demands of people while getting rid of the issues.  the element fluorine began to be considered.  A number of different molecules began to be prepared containing fluorine.  The resulting molecules, chlorofluorocarbons, were stable, nonflammable, nontoxic, inexpensive, and nearly odorless.  These molecules, CFCs, seemed to be perfect refrigerants.   They were so popular that they were also being used in popular household supplies like hair sprays, colognes, furniture polish, and insecticides.  However, in 1974, disturbing facts were revealed by researchers that changed the opinions about
CFCs.  Chloroflourocarbons do not break down by normal chemical reactions.  In fact, they actually increase the rate of breakdown of ozone molecules.  Chlorine atoms collide with ozone and form chlorine monoxide molecules.  Then chlorine monoxide reacts with oxygen to regenerate a chlorine atom.  These harmful chlorine atoms act as a catalyst to the breakdown of ozone molecules, yet don’t breakdown themselves.  This means that for every one percent of ozone layer depletion, an additional two percent of ultraviolet rays enter the atmosphere and cause harm to the earth and its inhabitants.  For example, chlorine is a powerful irritant and can cause fatal swelling of the lungs and airways.  It was often used in poisonous gas during WWI.  Another popular form of chlorocarbons used in WWI was the use of it in the popular insectiside DDT.  Armies used these “bug bombs” to clear the area of disease-spreading mosquitos.  However,  it was later discovered that DDT is a fat-soluble compound that accumulates in animal tissues and causes birds’ eggshells to become extremely fragile.  Chloroform, another chlorocarbon, became the new leading anesthesia for surgeries.  It fixed most of the major problems that previous anesthesia had been causing.  It is amazing to me that chlorofluorocarbons have had such positive and negative impacts on the world.  The development of the refrigerant molecules, air conditioners, electrical transformers, insecticides, and anesthesia from chlorocarbons have made a major impact on society.  I believe that without the discovery of these molecules, history would have been dramatically different.  For example, changes in the outcome of wars; a difference in the level of ozone depletion; and different methods of refrigeration and anesthesia are all possible differences that could exist in today’s world.  I have mixed feelings about the use of chlorocarbons.  I am grateful for the changes to modern technology that these molecules have brought to my world.  On the other hand, I often wonder if many of today’s problems, like global warming, would still exist today had these molecules not been discovered.   The author describes these impacts on society as ironic.  There is not a word more perfect to describe my feelings towards chlorocarbons as well.  Although these compounds have produced much harm to the environment, their benefits can not be ignored.


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