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Environmental Laws and Regulations that Apply to Perfluorocarbons

We address emissions of perfluorocarbons (PFCs) under the Clean Air Act (CAA). Following our Clean Air Act mandates, we are limiting uses and controlling releases of perfluorocarbons in multiple industrial sectors.

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Evaluating Alternatives to Ozone-Depleting Substances

Title VI of the CAA requires us to set up a program for phasing out production and use of chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. CAA Section 612 authorizes us to evaluate alternatives to ozone-depleting substancesHelpozone-depleting substancesOzone-depleting substances (ODS) are compounds that contribute to the thinning of the ozone layer above the earth. These substances include chlorofluorocarbons, hydrochlorofluorocarbons, halons, methyl bromide, carbon tetrachloride, hydrobromofluorocarbons, chlorobromomethane, and methyl chloroform. ODS degrade under intense ultraviolet light in the stratosphere. When they break down, they release chlorine or bromine atoms, which then deplete ozone molecules. (ODS), and in that evaluation, consider their impacts on human health and the environment.

Under this evaluation program, called the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program, we review the use of substitutes for ODSs in a number of industrial sectors like:
  • refrigeration and air conditioning;
  • precision, metals and electronics cleaning;
  • foam blowing; and
  • fire protection.

We have evaluated the use of perfluorocarbons as ODS substitutes in several of these sectors. Due to their long atmospheric lifetimes, perfluorocarbons have very high global warming potentials (GWPs)Helpglobal warming potentialA measure of how much heat a substance can trap in the atmosphere. GWP can be used to compare the effects of different greenhouse gases. For example, methane has a GWP of 21, which means over a period of 100 years, 1 pound of methane will trap 21 times more heat than 1 pound of carbon dioxide (which has a GWP of 1). -- thousands of times greater than the GWP of carbon dioxide -- and as a result, they would pose higher overall risk relative to other available alternatives. Because of these concerns, we established very stringent limits on the use of perfluorocarbons as ODS substitutes. Perfluorocarbons may only be used where no other agent is technically feasible due to performance or safety requirements. Users must conduct an evaluation of the other alternatives and must determine that they either will not perform properly or that they will pose a risk to human health.

In April 2016, we proposed to change the listings from acceptable to unacceptable for two perfluorocarbons in total flooding fire suppression applications. We proposed this change because these two perfluorocarbons have significantly higher GWPs than other substitutes that we have listed as acceptable in this end use, which therefore poses higher overall risk to human health and the environment.

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Preventing Emissions of Refrigerants during the Service, Maintenance, or Disposal of Appliances

Perfluorocarbons have a global warming potentialHelpglobal warming potentialA measure of how much heat a substance can trap in the atmosphere. GWP can be used to compare the effects of different greenhouse gases. For example, methane has a GWP of 21, which means over a period of 100 years, one pound of methane will trap 21 times more heat than one pound of carbon dioxide (which has a GWP of 1). thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide. When used as refrigerants, perfluorocarbons are prohibited from being knowingly released during the course of maintaining, servicing, repairing or disposing of appliances or industrial process refrigeration. This “venting prohibition” for the release of ODSs and their substitutes is found in CAA Section 608.

In late 2016, we strengthened and extended refrigerant management regulations established under CAA section 608 that apply to ODS refrigerants, so that the regulations also apply to perfluorocarbons and other substitutes for ODS refrigerants. The regulatory requirements include requiring that persons servicing or disposing of air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment follow specific service practices that reduce emissions of refrigerants into the atmosphere.​

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Greenhouse Gas Reporting

Our Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Rule requires reporting of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions data and related information from large sources and suppliers in the United States. The Rule is often referred to as 40 CFR Part 98, and our implementation of Part 98 is referred to as the Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP). Under the program, facilities (including producers, end users, and suppliers) that annually emit greenhouse gases equivalent to 25,000 metric tons or more of carbon dioxide are required to submit annual reports. Data are available from 2011 (and in some cases 2010) onwards. Emissions of perfluorocarbons are included in the reports.

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Partnering to Reduce Emissions of Fluorinated Gases

EPA's Fluorinated Gas Partnership Programs were launched as a joint effort by EPA and industry groups to reduce the amount of fluorinated gases (F-Gas) emitted from a variety of industrial processes. The programs promote the development and adoption of cost-effective F-Gas emission reduction opportunities. The programs for aluminum and semiconductors listed below address perfluorocarbon emissions; other Fluorinated Gas Partnership Programs address emissions of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), another potent and long-lived GHG.

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