Despite a global ban, China’s foam industry is making large-scale use of illegal chemicals that damage the ozone layer. As investigations by the environmental protection organization Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) have shown, the ozone killer trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) is used to foam plastics in Chinese companies. The “widespread” use in China explains why the substance in the atmosphere has been sinking more slowly since 2012 than would actually be expected from the existing environmental regulations.
The head of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), Erik Solheim, spoke of “important findings”. “It is crucial that we stop illegal activities immediately,” demanded the Norwegian in a response to Twitter. The revelations are likely to play a role at the meeting of representatives of the Montreal Protocol of 1987 for a reduction in ozone-depleting substances in Vienna on Wednesday.
The EIA investigators were in contact with 21 companies, 18 of which had confirmed in ten different provinces that the illegal chemical was used as a blowing agent for construction and insulation foams. It is clear that these are not isolated cases, but general practice throughout the industry. ”The reason: Trichlorofluoromethane is cheaper and of better quality than permitted alternatives. “The majority of the Chinese foam industry continues to use CFC-11 because of its better quality and lower price.”
Trichlorofluoromethane is one of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were previously used around the world as a coolant and propellant in spray cans, among other things. In the 1970s, scientists realized that CFCs could damage the protective ozone layer in the higher atmosphere.
After the discovery of the ozone hole over the Antarctic in 1985, the international community reached an agreement two years later with the Montreal Protocol and subsequent agreements on a drastic reduction in CFCs. An international production ban has been in effect for this group of substances since 2010. Although the ozone layer is slowly healing, the use of trichlorofluoromethane could hardly reverse the process.
Researchers led by Stephen Montzka from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder (Colorado, USA) feared a new, illegal source after a report in the journal “Nature” in May, after discovering suspiciously high readings of the chemical in the atmosphere. The investigators’ research in China now confirms these findings.
As a signatory to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, China also banned trichlorofluoromethane, but the implementation of the ban was rather poor, the EIA investigators found. The production of CFC ended in industrialized countries in 1996 and in developing countries actually in 2010, but according to their findings it continues to operate illegally in China.
According to the EIA, the manufacturers do not reveal the production sites to the users and therefore frequently change the locations in order to avoid official inspections. An industry insider describes this as “guerrilla tactics”. The EIA is also concerned that the substance will also be illegally exported.