Illegal ozone-depleting gases traced to rogue factories in eastern China

Pablo Tucker
May 24, 2019

A mystery source of banned, ozone-destroying chemicals has been pinpointed to eastern China.

"It is now vital that we find out which industries are responsible for the new emissions", Matt Rigby, a lead author of the study, said in the Sripps Institution statement.

Before it was phased out CFC-11, or Chlorofluorocarbon-11, was widely used in the 1970s and 1980s as a refrigerant and to make foam insulation.

Following the ban's entry into force, global concentrations of CFC-11 declined steadily until about 2012.

Although atmospheric levels of CFC-11 have fallen since the protocol was signed, U.S. scientists revealed a year ago that the rate at which it is declining appears to be slowing down.

Tough European Union environment rules make it illegal to discard fridges containing CFCs.

Evidence pointed to East Asia, but could not nail down the exact origin.

Industries in northeastern China have spewed large quantities of an ozone-depleting gas into the atmosphere in violation of an worldwide treaty, global scientists say.

"This research identifies the major source region for new CFC-11 emissions as eastern mainland China, likely due to the new production of insulating foams used in buildings, which is not permitted under the Montreal Protocol", said Paul Fraser, one of the paper's authors.

A report previous year by the UK-based non-profit Environmental Investigation Agency, said it had collected evidence from 18 companies in 10 Chinese provinces that showed use of CFC-11 is "widespread and pervasive" in factories that make insulation foam for buildings.

China continues to emit an increasing amount of ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), despite a global initiative to phase out CFCs under the Montreal Protocol, aggravating the climate crisis, scientists have found. The latest findings cast shadow on the global climate action as the fight to protect the planet from more adverse effects of climate change becomes crucial. The source of the emissions remained unknown, however, sparking concerns that it could hamper years of global effort to fix the protective ozone layer. They also showed that this increase comes mainly from the north-eastern provinces of Shandong and Hebei, and concluded that they are probably the result of new CFC-11 production.

Ozone is critical to life, limiting the amount of harmful ultraviolet solar radiation that reaches Earth's surface.

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