Banned ozone-destroying gas may still be in production

Banned ozone-destroying gas may still be in production

Once widely used as a foaming agent, production of CFC-11 was phased out by the Montreal Protocol in 2010. "There's a reasonable chance we'll figure out what's happening here", he said.

There is a small chance that there is a more innocent explanation for the rise in CFC-11 emissions, the scientist say.

Officially, the production of CFC-11 should be near zero or nearly zero - at least, those are the countries that cooperate with the United Nations body that monitors and ensures compliance with the Montreal Protocol.

Zaelke said he was surprised by the findings, not just because the chemical has always been banned, but also because alternatives already exist, making it hard to imagine what the market for CFC-11 today would be.

However, a study recently published in Nature reveals that CFC-11 production may be happening somewhere in the world despite the Montreal Protocol.

Today, from its peak in 1993, CFC-11 concentrations have declined by 15 percent. This means that the total concentration of ozone-depleting chemicals, overall, is still decreasing in the atmosphere.

"The newer substances that are out there, the replacements for CFC-11, might be more hard or expensive for some countries to produce or get at".

For the study, scientists at NOAA and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at University of Colorado, Boulder, in the USA made precise measurements of global atmospheric concentrations of CFC-11. Then, surprisingly, the rate of decline hardly changed over the decade that followed.

Banned ozone-destroying gas may still be in production
Banned ozone-destroying gas may still be in production

But in 2012 scientists noted that the rate of decline had slowed by 50 per cent, according to the new study.

After considering a number of possible causes, Montzka and his colleagues concluded that CFC emissions must have increased after 2012. They found that the difference in CFC-11 concentrations between the northern and southern hemispheres has been increasing, which points to a northern hemisphere source.

"It really looks like somebody is making it new" in violation of global law, says Montzka. By the end of the year, the Montreal Protocol was signed in a global effort to ban the products and heal the ozone layer. Under the treaty's requirements, nations have reported less than 500 tons of new CFC-11 production per year since 2010.

The protocol was a huge success, slowly shrinking the giant hole that forms over Antarctica each September.

The researchers built mathematical models to account for these observations, which suggest CFC-11 emissions have actually been increasing by around 25% each year since 2012, despite virtually no CFC-11 production being reported to the relevant authorities during this time.

To put that in perspective, production of CFC-11, marketed under the trade name Freon, peaked at about 430,000 tons per year in the 1980s.

If the source of these new emissions can be identified and controlled soon, the damage to the ozone layer should be minor, Montzka said. However, in 1987, an worldwide team of scientists proved that the emissions of such chemicals were actually harming the environment, particularly the ozone layer.

If the study is verified, this would be a clear violation of the Montreal Protocol.


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