The accumulation of human impacts on the environment continues apace. Most of these impacts are minor and unintentional but lead to global changes being observed in the ocean and atmosphere all around the planet. The most important of such minor impacts related to the proposed demolition project is refrigerant management. On his site visit near the end of 2011, Harris County Senior Planner Paul Suckow found rapid and pervasive unsanctioned salvaging of all kinds of materials from Brandywood, a doomed 698-unit apartment complex which closed only 12 days before having experienced severe repetitive flooding already at the time of Hurricane Ike, including looting of iron storm drain inlet covers, plumbing fixtures and appliances, and exterior fixtures. With the large number of central air conditioning condenser units in a facility of 698 dwelling units, a serious threat of refrigerant release existed on the site. Ad-hoc salvaging crews appeared interested in copper and other metals for their recycling value and may not have been aware of the risks involved with releasing Freon to the atmosphere.
Health risks of direct contact: Exposure to refrigerant can cause refrigerant poisoning. Something as mild as breathing near an open container or a small spill on your hand is generally harmless, however minor symptoms such as dizziness, headache, coughing and eye, nose and throat irritation may occur. When refrigerant is deeply inhaled, it can cut of oxygen to your lungs and cells. Direct exposure within a confined space, or abuse of the substance as a drug, can cause vomiting, chemical burn, heart palpitation, difficulty breathing and even loss of consciousness.
Health risks of release: Refrigerant chemicals such as Freon accumulate in the air and most air conditioners use a chemical called Freon as a refrigerant. Freon is a stable, nonflammable, moderately toxic gas that is tasteless and mostly odorless. Freon contains chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are known to deplete the ozone high in the atmosphere. The ozone that is formed or destroyed high in the atmosphere is essential to shield all life on the planet from the harmful ultraviolet radiation which would cause cell tissue destruction if it reached the biosphere in higher doses. Particular danger is interference with genetic transmission in living things.
Even a small amount of refrigerant release is dangerous to the environment because chemicals like Freon are man-made, not natural, and its components perform very efficiently as persistent catalysts in reactions which destroy ozone gas many times its weight and volume. CFCs are also more than ten thousand times more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide, the main gas creating vast and multiple human and environmental threats due to global heating and climate changes. It is essential that unprofessional salvagers take care not to release any refrigerant gas from refrigerators or air conditioners in attempts to gain salvageable material. Rapid deployment of trained and licensed demolition professionals may prevent inadvertent and cumulatively dangerous releases of refrigerant gases.