By Mona Casey
As a parent who lost a son at the tender age of 15 to the intentional inhalation of refrigerant, also known as huffing, I can attest that losing a child to something so senseless and preventable is extremely heartbreaking and difficult to accept. Access to the refrigerant is typically gained from your home’s air conditioning (AC) system.
My spouse and I knew nothing about huffing refrigerant. It never occurred to us to include refrigerants in our discussions with our son about drugs and other dangers. Since the untimely death of our son, I have made it my mission to raise awareness of this dangerous trend through education and other changes.
Every year, children die from huffing refrigerant and other chemical vapors. Such vapors can be found in a variety of common household products. By the time a student reaches the 8th grade, one in five will have used inhalants. Fifty-five percent of deaths associated with inhalant abuse are caused by cardiac arrest, which has become known as Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSDS). Twenty-two percent of those who died from SSDS had no prior history of huffing. Other severe consequences include brain damage, loss of muscle control, and destruction of vital organs.
Because the effect of huffing is brief, it can be very difficult to detect if a child is abusing chemicals. However, there are a few tell-tale signs. They include, but are not limited to: slurred speech, disorientation, red or runny eyes or nose, sores around the mouth, nausea and/or loss of appetite, anxiety, excitability, irritability and/or restlessness, sore throat, headache, hoarse voice, chemical odor on breath and/or clothing, hiding plastic or trash bags in unusual places, loss of effectiveness of AC systems, loitering and footprints around AC units, and missing caps on AC units. Anyone handling your AC unit should be EPA-certified.
Refrigerants serve many useful purposes, but when misused, they are extremely dangerous and can be deadly, even in the first use. When speaking to your children about the dangers of drugs, it’s essential to include inhalants, such as refrigerant in your discussion. For other types of common inhalants, visit
About the author: Mona Casey is the mother of the late Charles Ian Gray and founder of the United Parents to Restrict Open Access to Refrigerant. Please contact your local Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning contractor or visit us online for more information.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.