Is An Air Conditioner Freon Leak Dangerous?


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Freon is a popular refrigerant that is used in air conditioning systems. However, in 2010, the EPA banned the production of new air conditioning units that used Freon, and in 2020, they banned the manufacturing and import of the refrigerant in the United States. Nonetheless, Freon is still being used in old air conditioners and there are concerns that Freon is dangerous for human health. 

Freon leaking from an air conditioner is dangerous to health if inhaled in high quantities. In such a case, it can lead to nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and other problems. However, if you live in a ventilated room, poisoning due to Freon is less of a risk. 

In the rest of this article, we will discuss in more detail when Freon is dangerous and when it isn’t. We will also discuss the symptoms of Freon poisoning, the warning signs of a potential leak, and the causes of Freon leakage.

When a Freon Leak Isn’t Dangerous

The risk of poisoning is low if the quantity of Freon inhaled is less. If you live in a spacious room with good ventilation, the amount of Freon likely to be inhaled during a leak is not enough to cause any ill effects. 

When a Freon Leak Is dangerous

Prolonged exposure to Freon can lead to harmful effects. In a case published in the MJAFI, three occupants of a ship accidentally inhaled Freon in an unventilated area, and they subsequently suffered from loss of consciousness. Two of the shipmates, on regaining consciousness, suffered from a mild headache, loss of sensation, confusion, and an inability to open their mouths. The third occupant of the ship was in a coma for 3 hours.

There are 4 situations where you have to watch out for Freon poisoning:

Situation #1: If You Are Located Right Next to a Freon Leak

 If you are near a Freon leak for a long period of time, the proximity to the leak and the prolonged exposure can lead to Freon poisoning.

Situation #2: Confined Spaces

 A confined space with no vents increases the likelihood of Freon poisoning.

Situation #3: When the Leak Is Significant

If the leakage of Freon is excessive, the likelihood of poisoning increases. 

Situation #4: If You Get High With Freon

Huffing, which is the recreational use of refrigerant to get high, can lead to severe poisoning. If you have got any wild ideas for inhaling Freon to get high, then stop! Freon abuse can lead to hallucinations, delusions, depressed reflexes, and unconsciousness. 

Symptoms of Freon Poisoning

Depending on the exposure, the extent to which poisoning may happen can vary.

Mild poisoning can lead to:

  • Coughing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Frostbite if the Freon is in a liquid or gaseous state
  • Irritation of the eyes, ears, and throat
  • Headaches

Severe poisoning can lead to:

  • Seizures
  • Loss of blood through vomiting
  • Irregular beating of the heart
  • Loss of consciousness
  • A buildup of fluid in the lungs
  • A buildup of blood in the lungs
  • A sense of confusion
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Coma or sudden death

Signs of a Freon Leak

Freon, as opposed to oil in a refrigeration system, never runs out. It can continuously circulate through the air conditioning system for years. However, depletion of the refrigerant is a good sign that there is some leaking. Typical signs to watch out for if you suspect a Freon leak are:

Sign #1: Freezing of Coils

A good sign of a leak is if the evaporator coils freeze. Lack of absorption of heat, caused by low refrigerant levels, leads to condensation on the coils, leading to freezing.

Sign #2: High Electric Bills

If you notice that your electric bills have shot up suddenly, and your air conditioning unit/refrigerator has not been performing optimally lately, then there is a strong likelihood that there is a Freon leakage. If your bill has increased by 10%, this may suggest a two-fold increase in leakage. 

Sign #3: Cooling Takes Longer

Another good indicator of a leak is if your refrigerator or air conditioner struggles with cooling. A good way to confirm this is to check for warm air coming from your air conditioner. This suggests that the refrigerant is not doing its job properly.

Sign #4: Hissing Sound

Any holes or cracks in your AC unit can cause Freon to escape, emitting a hissing sound in the process. Keep in mind that a hiss doesn’t necessarily mean a Freon leak, though. There can be several other reasons for the same, like issues with the compressor or internal valve leaks.

Causes of a Freon leak

Cause #1: Excessive Vibration

If the outdoor unit of your air conditioner is not installed properly, it can lead to vibration of the unit. This can cause a fracture of the refrigeration lines leading to a leak. Vibration isolators prevent the unit from vibrating, so make sure that these isolators aren’t worn out and don’t have any defects.

Cause #2: Factory Defects

Factory defects can be a major factor in refrigerant leaking. If your unit has been having problems early on in its life cycle, consider cashing in your warranty. There is a good chance that the piece was defective from the get-go.

Cause #3: Time

Due to the ravages of time, your unit will begin to wear and tear, which will cause damage to the piping. Additionally, the joints may rust due to moisture from the environment.

Cause #4: Corrosion

The copper wires in your AC and refrigeration unit might corrode due to the presence of formaldehyde: a chemical present in many homes. Formaldehyde can be difficult to get rid of. It is formed by a chemical reaction between oxygen, hydrogen, and carbon. Formaldehyde can be found in hairspray, air fresheners, etc.

The other culprits that cause corrosion are chloride, fluoride, and dogs urine. Yes, you didn’t misread the last sentence. So make sure that your dog pees away from your air conditioning unit.

How to Prevent Freon Leaks

Regular Checks for Leaks

Reach out to your local HVAC technician to inspect leaks regularly. In this way, the problem can be preempted and you can keep your mind at ease.

Make Sure That the Refrigerant Levels Are Intact

If you notice any of the signs mentioned before in this article (high electric bills, longer time to cool, hissing sounds), it may be a good idea to have your technician take a look at it. These issues can be an indicator of a leak.

Final Thoughts

While Freon leaks can be dangerous, with proper precautions, there is nothing to worry about. Most cases of leaking do not lead to any damage. The only time when you should worry is when you live in a closed space with no ventilation or if you inhale Freon for the sake of getting high.

Nicole Sutton

Nicole is a writer from Missouri who enjoys horseback riding, writing in her journal, and watching reruns of Friends.

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