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article imageEmissions of banned ozone-destroying chemical on the rise

By Karen Graham     May 19, 2018 in Environment
Emissions of a banned, ozone-depleting chemical are on the rise, a group of scientists reported Wednesday, suggesting someone may be secretly manufacturing the pollutant in violation of an international accord.
The 1987 Montreal Protocol was designed to protect the stratospheric ozone layer by reducing the production and use of ozone-depleting substances called CFCs in order to protect the Earth's fragile ozone layer.
In a new study led by researchers with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with help from scientists in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, an unexpected and persistent increase in ozone-destroying chemicals, called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) has been documented.
OZONE Distribution on Earth
One of the first images from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission shows ho...
OZONE Distribution on Earth One of the first images from the Copernicus Sentinel-5P mission shows how ozone is distributed around the world. While ozone in the stratosphere is a good thing, protecting us from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation, lower down in the atmosphere it is a harmful pollutant.
ESA
Trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11
One of the banned chemicals, Trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11, is the second most abundant ozone-depleting gas, commonly used in refrigerants, aerosol sprays, and old Styrofoam. Under the Montreal Protocol, the world agreed to end the production of CFC-11 altogether by 2010.
However, CFC-11 still contributes one-quarter of all chlorine reaching the stratosphere, and a timely recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer depends on a sustained decline in CFC-11 concentrations, according to the study.
Actually, the Montreal Protocol has proven to be a huge success, slowly reducing the ozone hole that forms over Antarctica every September. And from its peak levels in 1993, CFC-11 concentrations have declined by 15 percent.
This is why the scientists doing this latest research were totally surprised at the results they came up with. They documented an unexpected increase in emissions of this CFC-11, likely from new, unreported production.
The Aura atmospheric chemistry satellite celebrated its 10th anniversary on July 15  2015. Since its...
The Aura atmospheric chemistry satellite celebrated its 10th anniversary on July 15, 2015. Since its launch in 2004, Aura has monitored Earth's atmosphere and provided data on the ozone layer, air quality, and greenhouse gases associated with climate change.
NASA/JPL
"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,'" said NOAA scientist Stephen Montzka, lead author of the paper, which has co-authors from CIRES, the UK, and the Netherlands.
"Further work is needed to figure out exactly why emissions of CFC-11 are increasing and if something can be done about it soon."
Has someone been cheating?
According to the study, from 2014 to 2016, emissions of CFC-11 increased by 25 percent above the average measured from 2002 to 2012, slowing the decline of the chemical by 50 percent from 2012 onward.
You can see the concentration of CFC-11 in the Northern (red) and Southern (blue) Hemispheres compar...
You can see the concentration of CFC-11 in the Northern (red) and Southern (blue) Hemispheres compared to projected decline (gray lines).
Montzka et al/Nature
"It's the most surprising and unexpected observation I've made in my 27 years," said Montzka. "Emissions today are about the same as it was nearly 20 years ago."
The research team tried to reconcile the results by looking at the number of old buildings that have been demolished that might have contained CFC-11 in the form of refrigerants. However, the data didn't match up.
Officially, according to the Mercury News, the production of CFC-11 is supposed to be at near-zero. At least that's what nations are telling the UN body that monitors and enforces the Montreal Protocol. However, after the research team ruled out other possible explanations for the rise in concentrations of CFC-11, they were left with only one conclusion - Someone is cheating.
“Somebody’s cheating,” said Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and an expert on the Montreal Protocol, in a comment on the new research. “There’s some slight possibility there’s an unintentional release, but . . . they make it clear there’s strong evidence this is actually being produced.”
In 2016   CIRES scientist Lei Hu and NOAA scientist Stephen Montzka investigated the concentrations ...
In 2016, CIRES scientist Lei Hu and NOAA scientist Stephen Montzka investigated the concentrations of CFC's in the stratosphere. Their latest findings show CFC's levels are in fact, rising.
Source: NASA / NOAA
NOAA's measurements during the same period, such as a widening difference between CFC-11 concentrations in the northern and southern hemispheres provided evidence that the new source was somewhere north of the equator. And further measurements taken atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii indicate the sources of the increasing emissions are likely in eastern Asia.
But there has to be further investigation into this so the location can be narrowed down more precisely. Zaekle doesn't understand why anyone would be manufacturing the chemical because alternatives already exist, making it hard to imagine what the market for CFC-11 today would be.
“These considerations suggest that the increased CFC-11 emissions arise from new production not reported to UNEP’s Ozone Secretariat, which is inconsistent with the agreed phase-out of CFC production in the Montreal Protocol by 2010,” the researchers wrote.
The research paper, An unexpected and persistent increase in global emissions of ozone-depleting CFC-11, was published in the journal Nature March 16, 2018.
More about Ozone, CFC11, Montreal protocol, NOAA, Antarctic
 
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