When scientists recently discovered a surge in the use of CFC-11, an ozone-destroying chemical, they were perplexed. Since the chemical was banned, its increased use did not make any sense. The researchers then discovered that the chemical was being used widely in China.
CFC-11, also known as freon-11, is a chemical that was initially developed as a refrigerant in the 1930s. Later on, it was used for home insulation. Global production of the chemical was supposed to be halted by 2010 according to the 1987 Montreal Accord. Starting in 2012, scientists discovered that the rate of decline of CFC-11 in the atmosphere had halved. They theorized that a new unknown production center of the chemical was active. Eventually, China was found to be the new source of emission of this dangerous chemical.
CFC-11 was being used in the vast majority of polyurethane insulation manufactured by Chinese companies. According to estimates, nearly 70 percent of polyurethane insulation sold in China used the chemical. The Chinese seemed to have thrown caution to the wind and started using the chemical since it is cheaper and better in quality than current alternatives. Nearly 40 to 50 percent of the CFC-11 emission increase came from eastern Chinese provinces.
“We find no evidence for a significant increase in CFC-11 emissions from any other eastern Asian countries or other regions of the world where there are available data for the detection of regional emissions. The attribution of any remaining fraction of the global CFC-11 emission rise to other regions is limited by the sparsity of long-term measurements of sufficient frequency near potentially emissive regions,” the researchers said in a report abstract (Nature).
A ton of CFC-11 roughly equates to 5,000 tons of CO2. As such, this chemical tends to do a great deal of damage to the ozone layer even in small quantities. China accounts for 40 percent of the global polyurethane foam market. The Chinese government revealed that production of the chemical was done in illegal manufacturing centers and that it has started cracking down on such activities.
“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,” Clare Perry from the Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) said in a statement (BBC).
Recovering ozone layer
According to the United Nations, the huge hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic is recovering quite well. The rate of recovery is estimated at 1 to 3 percent per decade. By 2060, the UN expects the ozone layer in the region to be at 1980 levels.
“Evidence presented by the authors shows that the ozone layer in parts of the stratosphere has recovered at a rate of 1-3 percent per decade since 2000… At projected rates, Northern Hemisphere and mid-latitude ozone is scheduled to heal completely by the 2030s, followed by the Southern Hemisphere in the 2050s and polar regions by 2060,” the UN Environment and the World Meteorological Organization said in a statement (Reuters).
Unfortunately, if the Chinese do not get their act together and quickly shut down the illegal production centers of CFC-11, the UN estimates of ozone layer recovery won’t come to fruition. Healing the ozone layer might be delayed by a decade or two under such circumstances.