China Using Banned Gases That Deplete the Ozone Layer, Scientists Discover

June 6, 2019 Updated: June 12, 2019

Cheap home insulation being made in China is being blamed for the huge increase in gases that destroy Earth’s ozone layer.

CFC-11, the second-most abundant ozone-depleting gas, was found to be produced and used en masse in eastern China according to research conducted by the Environmental Investigation Agency. This is a serious breach of the Montreal protocol.

“If we look at these extra emissions that we’ve identified from eastern China, it equates to about 35 million tonnes of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere every year, that’s equivalent to about 10% of UK emissions, or similar to the whole of London,” wrote BBC News.

Additionally, China accounts for the world’s largest polyurethane foam market, making up about 40 percent of global consumption.

Illustration – Shutterstock | Cire notrevo
Illustration – Shutterstock | Bakhtiyar Imambayev

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer has been signed by 197 countries, including China. It was designed to stop or reduce the use of CFCs. However, in 2018, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association discovered an increase in global emissions of Trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11).

“I’ve been making these measurements for more than 30 years and this is the most surprising thing I’ve seen,” said Stephen Montzka, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who led the work.

“I was astounded by it really,” Montzka told National Post.

The ozone layer is a thin layer of gas that protects life on our planet from dangerous rays from the sun. The ozone layer achieves this by absorbing harmful ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation.

Prolonged exposure to UV-B radiation has been linked to skin cancer, cataracts, genetic damage, and immune system suppression in living organisms, as well as reduced productivity in agricultural crops and the food chain according to Australia’s Department of Environment and Energy.

The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) said that 18 factories in 10 Chinese provinces admitted to using the banned chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). CFCs, along with other gases such as halons, carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), methyl chloroform (CH3CCl3), hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), methyl bromide (CH3Br), and bromochloromethane (CH2BrCl) deplete the ozone layer by releasing chlorine and bromine atoms into the stratosphere, which destroy ozone molecules.

“If China doesn’t stop this illegal production, it will imperil our slowly healing ozone layer,” said Alexander von Bismarck, EIA U.S. executive director.

Bismarck added that a nationwide intelligence-led investigation and higher penalties are needed to hold China to account.

Illustration – Getty Images

An Open-Ended Working Group of the Montreal Protocol meeting in Vienna from 11–14 July will most likely have this topic high on their agenda. “This is an environmental crime on a massive scale. Steps need to be taken to ensure enforcement and compliance with all the obligations of the Montreal Protocol, including new controls on HFCs. How the Montreal Protocol addresses this issue will determine whether it continues to merit its reputation as the world’s most effective environmental treaty,” said Clare Perry, EIA U.K. Climate Campaign leader.

Perry affirmed this new study by the EIA, confirming China is illegally producing these dangerous chemicals, “I think with this study, it is beyond doubt that China is the source of these unexpected emissions, and we would hope that China is leaving no stone unturned to discover the source of the CFC-11 production. Unless the production of the chemical is shut down it will be near impossible to end the use and emissions in the foam companies,” she said according to BBC News.

The scale of this environmental disaster is devastating, and tougher measures must be taken to stop the production and use of CFC-11 in China.