Short- and long-term releases of fluorocarbons from disposal of polyurethane foam waste

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Several halocarbons having very high global warming or ozone depletion potentials have been used as a blowing agent (BA) for insulation foam in home appliances, such as refrigerators and freezers. Many appliances are shredded after the end of their useful life. Release experiments carried out in the laboratory on insulation foam blown with the blowing agents CFC-11, HCFC-141b, HCF-134fa, and HFC-245fa revealed that not all blowing agents are released during a 6-week period following the shredding process. The experiments confirmed the hypothesis that the release could be divided into three segments: By shredding foam panels, a proportion of the closed cells is either split or damaged to a degree allowing for a sudden release of the contained atmosphere in the cell (the instantaneous release). Cells adjacent to the cut surface may be only slightly damaged by tiny cracks or holes allowing a relative slow release of the BA to the surroundings (the short-term release). A significant portion of the cells in the foam particle will be unaffected and only allows release governed by slow diffusion through the PUR cell wall (the long-term release). The magnitude of the releases is for all three types highly dependent on how fine the foam is shredded. The residual blowing agent remaining after the 6-week period may be very slowly released if the integrity of the foam particles with respect to diffusion properties is kept after disposal of the foam waste on landfills. It is shown by setting up a national model simulating the BA releases following decommissioning of used domestic refrigerators/freezers in the United States that the release patterns are highly dependent on how the appliances are shredded.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Science & Technology (Washington)
Issue number21
Pages (from-to)5071-5079
Publication statusPublished - 2003


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