Scientists have finally found the source of an ozone-depleting chemical that threatens to destroy the environment, according to investigators.
The mysterious, ozone-depleting chemical is being illegally produced by Chinese manufacturers and is leading to a surge in emissions of the destructive gas, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
At least 18 companies have been using CFC-11, which was banned worldwide in 2010, to make foam insulation, according to the EIA. It said the discovery amounted to “an environmental crime on a massive scale”.
Scientists revealed earlier this year that there had been a mysterious rise in the chemical that is causing major damage to the ozone layer. They speculated at the time that it was coming from east Asia – but were unable to find the source.
The ozone layer is central to protecting life on Earth from damaging UV radiation, but has been ravaged by pollution. It had appeared to be closing back up, but the increase in the destructive gas could threaten that progress.
CFCs had been widely used as refrigerants, propellants and aerosols but were banned under the Montreal Protocol after the ozone hole was discovered in the 1980s.
The ban was credited with the reversing damage to the ozone layer and was regarded as one of the most successful environmental policies in the history of the world.
However, a paper published in Nature two months ago reported a rise in emissions in CFC-11 that pointed towards breaches of the Montreal Protocol in east Asia.
The EIA said 18 companies in 10 Chinese provinces have now confirmed they are using CFC-11 as a blowing agent for manufacturing of foams used to insulate buildings.
“If China doesn’t stop this illegal production, it will imperil our slowly healing ozone layer,” said Alexander von Bismarck, the EIA’s US executive director. “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.”
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