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‘Freon huffing' on the rise, posing danger to teens



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SALT LAKE CITY — When you turn on your air conditioning, you're also fueling a dangerous new trend among teenagers. Many are now huffing chemicals out of AC units.

What is ... 'huffing?'
"Huffing" is defined by inhalant.org as inhaling fumes or vapors of a substance in one of the following ways:
  • A product is held directly to the mouth and the contents are inhaled.
  • A piece of cloth is placed over the product to act as a filter and the contents are inhaled through the cloth.
  • A chemical-soaked rag is held to the face or stuffed in the mouth and the substance is inhaled.

The practice is not only potentially deadly for teens, it can destroy an air conditioning unit in a matter of minutes.

Ryan Rentmeister owns Rentmeister Total Home Service and this is his company's busy season. Hot temperatures have people turning on their air conditioners, but many aren't working because their Freon is gone.

"We've had four cases just in our company over the last week," Rentmeister said Wednesday. That includes his own brother's AC unit and his mom's.

Rentmeister took KSL News along to his mother's house as he installed a special lock. Before he did that, he ran a quick test.

"Someone may have gotten to it in the last couple days and got a little more, ‘cause it appears to be a little low," he said.

So what's happening? People are huffing refrigerant, or Freon, inside the air conditioner. Surveillance video recently posted on YouTube captured teens visiting an air conditioning unit three times to get high.

Warning signs
If someone is an inhalant abuser, some or all of these symptoms may be evident:
  • Drunk, dazed, or dizzy appearance
  • Slurred or disoriented speech
  • Uncoordinated physical symptoms
  • Red or runny eyes and nose
  • Spots and/or sores around the mouth
  • Unusual breath odor or chemical odor on clothing
  • Signs of paint or other products where they wouldn't normally be, such as on face, lips, nose or fingers
  • Nausea and/or loss of appetite
Chronic inhalant abusers may exhibit symptoms such as hallucinations, anxiety, excitability, irritability, restlessness or anger. (Information from Inhalant.org)

But huffing refrigerant is not only dangerous, it can be deadly. A year ago, Idaho teenager Cody Liedle, an expert swimmer, drowned. Police say he had huffed Freon right before he went swimming and it contributed to his death.

"This is a trend we're seeing and we'd like to get a handle on it," said Syracuse police Lt. Tracy Jensen.

Jensen says two churches near Syracuse High School have been hit more than once, but catching the teens is usually easier than prosecuting them.

"It's something that's in their system for 15, 20 minutes and it's gone," Jensen explained. "It's not like alcohol or marijuana where [it] stays in their system."

Rentmeister suggests everyone install a lock on their AC units. The locks run $40 to $50 but could end up saving you much more.

"You cannot deter everybody. But if your system is a little more secure, you could deter some people — and some of those people might be your kids," Rentmeister said.

The AC locks can be purchased by contacting your air conditioning technician. Rentmeister says they're very easy to install and very difficult to remove.


Written by Sarah Dallof with contributions from Marc Giauque.

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Sarah Dallof

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