Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – Suspicion is falling on an Asian country as the source of a disheartening increase in the amount of banned chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere damaging the ozone layer protecting the Earth by absorbing most of the Sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone-depleting chemicals have been banned since September 1987 by the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, or the Montreal Protocol, signed by all member states of the United Nations.
A group of scientists reported that someone in Asia is secretly manufacturing ozone-depleting CFCs in violation of the Montreal Protocol. They’re still finding out who and where that company or companies are located. A U.S. observatory in Hawaii found CFC-11 (which was widely used as a refrigerant) mixed in with other gases that were characteristic of a source coming from somewhere in eastern Asia.
Scientists said about 13 billion grams per year of CFC was released into the atmosphere in recent years, which “strongly suggests” the new source of emissions is man made. Emissions of CFC-11 have risen 25 percent since 2012, despite the chemical being part of a group of ozone pollutants that were phased out under the Montreal Protocol. CFCs destroy ozone, leading to the creation of the fearsome “ozone hole,” which is a massive gap in the ozone layer allowing the unimpeded entry of ultraviolet radiation.
“I’ve been making these measurements for more than 30 years, and this is the most surprising thing I’ve seen,” said Stephen Montzka, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who led the work. “I was astounded by it, really.”
Officially, production of CFC-11 is supposed to be at or near zero but the rise in CFC emissions confirms the worst fears that a company or companies are making the outlawed chemical in defiance of the ban.
CFC-11 is used primarily for foams, and can last up to 50 years in the atmosphere once released. Scientists say this chemical is destroyed only in the stratosphere (some nine to 18 miles above the Earth’s surface) where the resulting chlorine molecules engage in ozone-destroying chemical reactions. The massive loss of ozone weakens our protection from ultraviolet radiation at the Earth’s surface. CFC-11 is also a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.
“Somebody’s cheating,” said Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and an expert on the Montreal Protocol,. “There’s some slight possibility there’s an unintentional release, but … they make it clear there’s strong evidence this is actually being produced.”
Zaelke said he was surprised by the findings, not just because the chemical has long been banned but also because alternatives exist, making it hard to imagine what the market for CFC-11 today would be.
They considered a range of alternative explanations for the growth, such as a change in atmospheric patterns that gradually remove CFC gases in the stratosphere; an increase in the rate of demolition of buildings containing old residues of CFC-11 or accidental production.
“These considerations suggest that the increased CFC-11 emissions arise from new production not reported to (the U.N. Environment Program’s) Ozone Secretariat, which is inconsistent with the agreed phase-out of CFC production in the Montreal Protocol by 2010,” according to the published research paper.
“It is not clear why any country would want to start to produce, and inadvertently release, CFC-11, when cost-effective substitutes have been available for a long while,” said Robert Watson, a former NASA scientist. “It is therefore imperative that this finding be discussed at the next Ministerial meeting of Governments given recovery of the ozone layer is dependent on all countries complying with the Montreal Protocol (and its adjustments and amendments) with emissions globally dropping to zero.”
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