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Question DetailsAsked on 2/22/2017

being inside a cooler at work with faulty HVAC system while it's filled with freon cause lung cancer

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1 Answer


Taking me back to my days as a hazardous materials handling trainer and hazardous waste site supervisor.

Freon is known to cause respiratory problems in concentrations, but is not accepted by the official medical community as a known carcinogen. You did not say if your exposure was one-time or for a limited period ,which even with fairly highly carcinogenic substances (excluding radioactive ones) usually does not lead to a measureable increase in cancer risk. Or if it was a long-term (many months or usually many years) exposure to leaking gas which is what is almost universally required to create a significant cancer risk from known carcinogens.

Generally speaking, assuming you are talking about working as a food processing or food service worker handling materials in and out of a freezer, unless they were pumping expensive freon in on a daily or weekly basis or so (as opposed to every few months to year or so with a normal leak) even if the leak were inside the freezer (say at the coils) the concentration in the freezer/cooler would be low, which unless you are a full-time in-freezer or cooler worker (like a butcher working in a cooler room) would be even lower because your time in the cooler would typically be a quite small percentage of your work day. Generally speaking, carcinogens cause cancer because of long-term repeated or continuous exposure, not one-time or short-term exposure.

In general things like gaseous carcinogens take a lot of exposure time to be hazardous, though most if not all lung carcinogens are typically 10-1000 times more hazardous to regular smokers (or people who live in a smoking household) than to people who live in a non-smoking environment.

You can find more data by googling search phrases like the following (without the quotes):

1) "Freon 22 MSDS" which will bring up many links to the Materials Safety Data Sheet for that product

2) "does Freon cause cancer CDC" - or - "Freon health risks OSHA" which will give you links to Center for Disease Control and OSHA documentation on the known risks of Freon exposure

3) you can also contact your employer HR department requesting an exposure hazard disclosure (which they are required by law to give you if you exposed to a suspected hazardous material) - or if you don't want to go through HR contact an environmental health specialist at your local state OSHA office for more info and data on what exposure limits are allowable or considered safe - and what your employee rights to hazard disclosure info from your employer and medical assessment and such may be.

One other thing - you said "Freon" - which is R-22 refrigerant. There are other refrigerants including R-134a, which is very commonly used in refrigerators/freezers as well as in vehicle air conditioning systems, which are either carcinogenic or commonly include minor constituents or byproducts from manufacturing which are known carcinogens - so be sure which refrigerant you need to be researching.

If you are looking for professional medical exam/advice (which your employer might have to provide free after a known exposure) a specialist in medical environmental health or tocicology would be the normal medical specialty.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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