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Investigation Points To China As Source Of Increased Levels Of Banned Ozone-Depleting Gas

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Information from the investigation conducted by the Environmental Investigation Agency reveals that the chemicals used in China's construction sector are causing massive damage to the ozone layer.

Experts said that the atmospheric level of CFC-11 is rapidly increasing despite its full ban order in 2010. CFC-11 is a type of chlorofluorocarbon used for insulation purposes. It is used as a blowing agent to make molded foam panels for housing and building structures.

"EIA has evidence from 18 companies in 10 provinces that they use CFC-11. Detailed discussions with company executives make clear that these are not isolated incidents but instead represent common practice across the industry," EIA reported.

The Chinese companies admitted that they use CFC-11 for the majority of their foam production, around 70 to 100 percent. The report also highlighted China's compliance issues, which need an urgent crackdown on the use of CFC-11.

What is CFC-11?

CFC-11 or trichlorofluoromethane is an ozone-depleting gas 4,750 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It is widely used in the production of polyurethane foam due to its low thermal conductivity, non-flammability, and room temperature boiling point.

In compliance with the Montreal Protocol in 1987, CFC-11 has been officially banned in developed countries since 1996 and in developing countries by 2012.

However, a study published in the journal Nature noted that the decline of CFC-11 in the atmosphere has slowed down by 50 percent after 2012. The authors discounted the idea that the increase of CFC-11 in the atmosphere is due to existing factories being decommissioned. Rather, they think it is likely that there has been some illegal production of CFC-11, particularly in East Asia. Their hypothesis is parallel to the EIA's findings.

"Any production of an ozone-depleting gas that's controlled by the Montreal Protocol has to be reported to the ozone secretariat, and, currently, global production is essentially zero. We know of no production even for intermediary or side products," Dr. Stephen Montzka, project leader of the Chlorofluorocarbons Alternative Monitoring Project at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told BBC.

Why Is This A Big Deal?

In 2014, scientists reported that the ozone layer is thickening, a sign that it is likely recovering. It would take at least a decade for the damage to shrink. Still, the size of the hole is found to be approximately 4 million square kilometers in 2015, an area comparable to the size of India.

It is important to reduce the damage to the ozone layer so as to prevent ultraviolet radiation from directly reaching the ground. Ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause skin cancer and eye diseases. It can also destroy crops and marine life.

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