China is leaking banned, ozone-killing chemicals: watchdog

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Several Chinese firms have stalled global efforts to save the ozone layer by using a banned chemical to make foam insulation, according to an environmental advocacy group.

The Environmental Investigation Agency claims China’s construction industry is using CFC-11, a banned ozone-depleting chemical, as a cheap blowing agent to manufacture hard foam for commercial and residential buildings. The chemical may also have been sold to other countries as part of a pre-mixed blend for foam production.

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The EIA claims to have found evidence of at least 18 companies using the banned chemical in the majority of their foam-production operations. The claims have not been independently verified.

“The scale of the compliance issue is such that it cannot be treated as a series of isolated incidents,” the EIA said in a report.

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The EIA says several Chinese construction executives openly acknowledged the use of CFC-11 last month, saying it was easy to avoid lax enforcement efforts by the Chinese government.

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The EIA is a non-governmental organization that investigates and campaigns against “environmental crime and abuse,” according to its website.

Global News has reached out to several companies named in the EIA report for comment.

The chemical trichlorofluoromethane, commonly known as CFC-11, was globally banned along with several ozone-destroying chemicals under the Montreal Protocol of 1987. China was among the 148 parties to the agreement.

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A recent scientific study found that global CFC-11 levels have been on the decline since 1994, but that decline abruptly slowed approximately six years ago. The study authors suggested a “mystery” polluter in eastern Asia was defying the ban and putting the ozone layer at risk.

Concentrations of other ozone-depleting CFCs continue to steadily decline, according to the study published in Nature.

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What happens next

Under the Montreal Protocol, 148 countries committed to reducing their CFC emissions to virtually zero by 2010. Those efforts have resulted in an overall 15 per cent decline in the concentration of ozone-depleting substances, according to the study published in May.

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All parties to the Montreal Protocol are slated to meet on Saturday to discuss the spike in CFC-11 emissions, as well as potential punishments for countries found to be in violation of the agreement.

UN environment chief Erik Solheim said the EIA investigation is part of a “wider body of scientific verification taking place” to establish clear causes and sources of the CFC-11 emissions.

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Solheim says the Montreal Protocol has “absolute support from all member states,” and that all parties have been in “near-constant communication” in an effort to identify and stop the mystery CFC-11 emissions.

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“It is in these moments that the mechanisms of the international community are more valuable than ever,” Solheim said in a statement to Global News.

“This week will be a critical moment for dialogue, resolve and action to ensure any illegal activities are fully investigated and urgently halted,” Solheim said.

CFC-11 is part of a family of chemicals collectively known as chlorofluorocarbons, which destroy ozone molecules in the Earth’s stratosphere.

“If these emissions continue unabated, they have the potential to slow down the recovery of the ozone layer,” the UN Ozone Secretariat said in May.

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“It is therefore critical that we take stock of this science, identify the causes of these emissions and take necessary action.”