Illegal ozone-depleting chemical still in use in China: Environmental Investigation Agency report

File photo showing the Wujing Coal-Electricity Power Station by the Huangpu river in Shanghai, on Feb 21, 2017. The illegal ozone-destroying chemical CFC-11 remains in use in 18 different companies in 10 Chinese provinces today.
File photo showing the Wujing Coal-Electricity Power Station by the Huangpu river in Shanghai, on Feb 21, 2017. The illegal ozone-destroying chemical CFC-11 remains in use in 18 different companies in 10 Chinese provinces today.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - The illegal ozone-destroying chemical CFC-11 remains in use in some Chinese provinces, a development which could imperil the gains of a 1987 agreement to protect the ozone layer, said an environmental group on Monday (July 9).

The Britain-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said in a new report that it has evidence from 18 companies in 10 Chinese provinces confirming their use of CFC-11 for making foams used to insulate buildings and appliances.

It said: "Detailed discussions with company executives (in China) make clear these are not isolated incidents but common practice throughout the industry."

"Producers and traders of polyurethane foam blowing agent repeatedly told EIA sources that the majority of China's foam industry continues to use CFC-11 due to its better quality and lower price."

Some companies appear to produce CFC-11 themselves. But traders were also supplied by factories in undisclosed locations, the EIA said.

Several companies also referred to the ease with which CFC-11 could be exported in the pre-blended polyol compound used to make the foams, it added.

This comes in the wake of "shocking evidence showing significant and unexplained emissions of the ozone-destroying chemical CFC-11 in the atmosphere", said EIA.

The report was released ahead of the July 11-14 Open-Ended Working Group of the Montreal Protocol in Vienna, where the issue of the rogue CFC-11 emissions is likely to be high on the agenda, the EIA said.

"It's quite serious, it will be discussed in Vienna," an expert on the Montreal Protocol told The Straits Times, declining to be named because of organisational rules.

"The Multilateral Fund paid for the phase out of the production of CFC-11 and CFC-12," the expert said, naming two ozone depleting agents. "So having emissions of this substance appear to show that perhaps despite the closure of the production facilities with funding provided, there appears to still be some illegal production."

The Montreal Protocol was adopted in 1987 to phase out gases that deplete the ozone layer, which acts like a membrane shielding life on Earth from the harmful affects of solar radiation, such as the ultra- violet rays that cause skin cancer. The layer was found to have a hole in 1985.

In January this year, a study by American space agency Nasa showed the rate of depletion of the ozone layer has slowed. In fact, the Montreal Protocol is considered the world's most successful environmental agreement, mainly because it gives countries financial assistance for substitution.

But there remains some illegal trade in ozone-depleting chemicals, because they are cheaper than substitutes.

"If China doesn't stop this illegal production, it will imperil our slowly healing ozone layer," said EIA US executive director Alexander von Bismarck in a press statement. "CFC-11 is also a super global warmer, making this a serious threat for our climate as well."

He added: "What we've uncovered is a systemic problem, not isolated incidents. It requires a comprehensive nationwide intelligence-led investigation and higher penalties throughout the sector that fit the crime."