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Illegal production of CFCs back in vogue?

China has played a vital role in the success of the Montreal Protocol; however, selected foam manufacturers may need support to switch to more environmentally friendly alternatives, says Environmental Investigation Agency

| | Sep 11, 2018 | 2:59 pm
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London, UK, 11 September 2018: The use of CFCs in refrigerants was the topic of discussion for a prolonged period of time, until their ban, following the agreement of the Montreal Protocol. However, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), recently released an investigative report, entitled ‘Blowing it: Illegal Production and Use of Banned CFC-11 in China’s Foam Blowing Industry,’ revealed Julian Newman, Campaigns Director, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Julian Newman

Elaborating on the investigation, Newman said, EIA has been investigating and exposing illegal trade in ozone-depleting substances, such as CFCs, since the late 1990s. He said: “Our expertise lies in understanding illegal trade routes and smuggling methods. It appeared to us that the problem of illegal trade in CFCs had diminished from a peak of 38,000 tonnes a year, in the late 1990s, to the global phase-out of CFC production in 2010.” It came as a surprise, he said, when a scientific paper, released in May 2018, revealed a mysterious rise in CFC-11 emission into the atmosphere, which he insisted, should have not been the case, if the Montreal Protocol (the United Nations agreement on tackling substances that deplete the ozone layer) had been complied with.

Newman said, “The scientific paper suggested that the rise in emissions was due to a new and unauthorised production of CFC-11 somewhere in East Asia.” Based on these findings, he said, the EIA sought to verify the scientific findings by conducting an investigation into the illicit production of CFCs, turning its attention to China, as it was the world’s largest CFC producer at the time, during the phase-out in 2010. He said: “We felt the need for a research to help us pinpoint the cause of the CFC-11 emissions. This, in addition to help assisting the parties to the Montreal Protocol, so that appropriate measures to tackle the problem could be taken.” Adding, Newman pointed out to the need for clear evidence, which was provided by the investigation.

Elaborating on the techniques used to conduct the research, Newman said: “The investigation involved identifying potential target companies, which might have been producing or using the banned CFC-11 substance and, then, contacting them by posing as potential buyers over telephone and e-mail.” The next stage, he said, was to meet the selected target companies, based on the response they provided to the initial approach. Through this, he said, the EIA obtained a testimony from the representatives from 18 companies in China, who were actively using CFC-11 as a blowing agent to produce PU foams.

Elaborating on the effects of CFC emissions, Newman said that once they rise into the stratosphere, they are broken down by Ultraviolet (UV) radiation, resulting in the release of chlorine atoms. This, he said, destroys the ozone molecules, which make up the Earth’s ozone layer, which can have a disastrous impact on all life forms on Earth.

Offering a remedy to the situation, Newman pointed out to regulation as the ideal solution. He said: “Regulation is vital in protecting the environment, and the Montreal Protocol has been a successful global agreement in terms of phasing out ozone-depleting substances and allowing the ozone to recover.” China, he said, has played a very important role in the success of the Montreal Protocol, and there are indications that the government has already taken steps to tackle the illegal production and use of CFC-11 in the country.

“Support,” Newman said, “is needed for the thousands of small and medium foam manufacturers in China to switch to more environmentally friendly alternatives.”

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