Global atmospheric chemistry of CFC-123

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Nature, Volume 344, Issue 6261, p.47 - 49 (1990)



The compound 1,1-dichloro-2,2,2-trifluoroethane (CFC-123), which is potentially usable as a foam-blowing agent in the plastics industry, an aerosol propellant and a refrigerant, has been proposed as an industrial substitute for trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11), the use of which is increasingly restricted because of its effects on the ozone layer and on climate1–3. It is expected that CFC-123, although like CFC-11 an absorber of infrared radiation, will be less stable in the atmosphere because of its expected reaction with OH radicals in the troposphere. Using a three-dimensional global model of the atmosphere, we have calculated the chemical destruction rates of CFC-123 by various processes, confirming that the chief sink is destruction by OH radicals below 12 km, which accounts for 88% of its loss. The calculated destruction rate is greatest in the equatorial region below 2 km. The calculated steady-state lifetime of CFC-123 is 1.5 years, based on the best available estimate of the rate constant of the reaction with OH. This lifetime is very much shorter than that of CFC-11, the destruction of which is largely confined to the stratosphere. For equal rates (by mass) of CFC-123 and CFC-11 emission to the atmosphere, the molar content in the atmosphere and the injection rate of chlorine into the stratosphere are, respectively, 48 and 14 times greater for CFC-11 than for CFC-123 in steady-state.