Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Scientists: Someone is manufacturing banned, ozone-destroying chemical

Scientists: Someone is manufacturing banned, ozone-destroying chemical

"A delay in ozone recovery [.] is anticipated, with an overall importance depending on the trajectory of CFC-11 emissions and concentrations in the future".

Widely used for production sprays, foams, solvents and refrigerants since the 1930s, CFC chemicals were banned internationally in 2010 according to the Montreal Protocol, after scientists found out that CFCs release chlorine molecules into the atmosphere, "eating" ozone.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Colorado has alarmed the global community with their discovery of increased emissions of an ozone-depleting chemical, whose production was banned worldwide almost ten years ago. But with emissions on the rise, scientists suspect someone is making the chemical in defiance of the ban. But the researchers noticed the rate at which it is declining appeared to be slowing down.

But we aren't. CFC-11 levels dropped some 2.1 ppt (parts-per-trillion) each year between 2002 and 2012.

"We're raising a flag to the global community to say, 'This is what's going on, and it is taking us away from timely recovery from ozone depletion.' Further work is needed to figure out exactly why emissions of CFC-11 are increasing and if something can be done about it soon", research leading author Stephen Montzka said.

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'In a word, these results are shocking, ' says Dwayne Heard, an atmospheric chemist at the University of Leeds in the UK.

According to global CFC-11 levels measured by scientists at NOAA and Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the concentration of the chemical declined at an accelerating rate till 2002, but then, the fall became stagnant for nearly a decade. I think this will be quite a shock to many people who, like me, thought the Montreal Protocol was working well'.

These could hamper the recovery of the ozone hole and worsen climate change. The substance is also a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. This suggests that there may be a new and unreported production of CFC-11, possibly from East Asia. Some early systems might be having a CFC-11 leak but such systems should slowly vanish so that the concentration of the chemical in the atmosphere diminishes over time. The chemical can be a byproduct in other chemical manufacturing, but it is supposed to be captured and recycled. Rather, the evidence "strongly suggests" a new source of emissions, the scientists wrote.

Another key question is whether there could be another explanation for a slower decline in CFC-11 post-2012, such as a change in the rate of chemical processes such as UV photolysis that break down CFC-11 in the stratosphere, or an increase in emissions from CFC "banks" - reservoirs that persist in old equipment and products that are still in use. 'Three different instrument measurements systems are used by NOAA to measure CFC-11, and they all showed the same trends, ' he says. He adds that it is safe to rule out experimental error.

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