A family of compounds of chlorine, fluorine, and carbon, entirely of industrial origin. CFCs include refrigerants, propellants for spray cans (this usage is banned in the U.S., although some other countries permit it) and for blowing plastic-foam insulation, styrofoam packaging, and solvents for cleaning electronic circuit boards. The compounds' lifetimes vary over a wide range, exceeding 100 years in some cases.
CFCs' ability to destroy stratospheric ozone through catalytic cycles is contributing to the depletion of ozone worldwide. Because CFCs are such stable molecules, they do not react easily with other chemicals in the lower atmosphere. One of the few forces that can break up CFC molecules is ultraviolet radiation, however the ozone layer protects the CFCs from ultraviolet radiation in the lower atmosphere. CFC molecules are then able to migrate intact into the stratosphere, where the molecules are bombarded by ultraviolet rays, causing the CFCs to break up and release their chlorine atoms. The released chlorine atoms participate in ozone destruction, with a single atom of chlorine able to destroy ozone molecules over and over again.
International attention to CFCs resulted in a meeting of diplomats from around the world in Montreal in 1987. They forged a treaty that called for drastic reductions in the production of CFCs. In 1990, diplomats met in London and voted to significantly strengthen the Montreal Protocol by calling for a complete elimination of CFCs by the year 2000.
Source: NASA (http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Glossary)