Emissions of banned ozone-eating chemical somehow are rising

May 16, 2018 by Seth Borenstein
Emissions of banned ozone-eating chemical somehow are rising
This undated photo provided by NOAA in May 2018 shows aurora australis near the South Pole Atmospheric Research Observatory in Antarctica. When a hole in the ozone formed over Antarctica, countries around the world in 1987 agreed to phase out several types of ozone-depleting chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Production was banned, emissions fell and the hole shriveled. But according to a study released on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, scientists say since 2013, there's more of a banned CFC going into the atmosphere. (Patrick Cullis/NOAA via AP)

Something strange is happening with a now-banned chemical that eats away at Earth's protective ozone layer: Scientists say there's more of it—not less—going into the atmosphere and they don't know where it is coming from.

When a hole in the formed over Antarctica, countries around the world in 1987 agreed to phase out several types of ozone-depleting chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Production was banned, emissions fell and the hole slowly shrank.

But starting in 2013, emissions of the second most common kind started rising, according to a study in Wednesday's journal Nature . The chemical, called CFC11, was used for making foam, degreasing stains and for refrigeration.

"It's the most surprising and unexpected observation I've made in my 27 years" of measurements, said study lead author Stephen Montzka, a research chemist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Emissions today are about the same as it was nearly 20 years ago," he said.

Countries have reported close to zero production of the chemical since 2006 but the study found about 14,300 tons (13,000 metric tons) a year has been released since 2013. Some seeps out of foam and buildings and machines, but scientists say what they're seeing is much more than that.

Emissions of banned ozone-eating chemical somehow are rising
This undated photo provided by NOAA in May 2018 shows Mauna Loa Observatory scientist Aidan Colton, a NOAA employee who fills flasks and maintains instruments at the MLO in Hawaii. According to a study released on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, scientists say since 2013, there's more of a banned chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) going into the atmosphere, and measurements from a dozen monitors around the world, including the MLO, suggest the emissions are coming from somewhere around China, Mongolia and the Koreas. (James Elkins/NOAA via AP)

Measurements from a dozen monitors around the world suggest the emissions are coming from somewhere around China, Mongolia and the Koreas, according to the study. The chemical can be a byproduct in other chemical manufacturing, but it is supposed to be captured and recycled.

Either someone's making the banned compound or it's sloppy byproducts that haven't been reported as required, Montzka said.

An outside expert, Ross Salawitch, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Maryland, is less diplomatic. He calls it "rogue production," adding that if it continues "the recovery of the would be threatened."

High in the atmosphere, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems.

Nature removes 2 percent of the CFC11 out of the air each year, so concentrations of the chemical in the atmosphere are still falling, but at a slower rate because of the new emissions, Montzka said. The stays in the air for about 50 years.

Explore further: Ozone recovery may be delayed by unregulated chemicals

More information: An unexpected and persistent increase in global emissions of ozone-depleting CFC-11, Nature (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0106-2 , www.nature.com/articles/s41586-018-0106-2

NOAA press release

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Paris climate targets could be exceeded sooner than expected

September 17, 2018

A new study has for the first time comprehensively accounted for permafrost carbon release when estimating emission budgets for climate targets. The results show that the world might be closer to exceeding the budget for ...

More ships and more clouds mean cooling in the Arctic

September 17, 2018

With sea ice in the Arctic melting at an alarming rate, opportunities for trans-Arctic shipping are opening up, and by mid-century ships will be able to sail right over the North Pole—something not previously possible for ...

10 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

freehit
1 / 5 (1) May 16, 2018
Could it be the gas leaking from land fills "full" of dead refrigerators leaking the gas as their components rust through? While we monitor for methane (and trap), perhaps we should test for CFC11 too.
Da Schneib
4.7 / 5 (3) May 16, 2018
Somebody is engaging in clandestine production of Freon for electronics manufacturing, or refrigerators or air conditioners. My bet is it's North Korea but none of South Korea, China, or Mongolia is unlikely. The question is whether whoever it is will be greedy enough to get caught.
leetennant
4.7 / 5 (3) May 16, 2018
I didn't even need to read through to know that China was going to be the likely culprit. Although Da Schnieb is right and North Korea is a possible candidate, their manufacturing output is simply not sufficient to make such a vast difference. China's is.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (1) May 17, 2018
Somebody is engaging in clandestine production of Freon for electronics manufacturing, or refrigerators or air conditioners.

I would expect a slight rise from all the old freon AC/refrigeration units reaching end-of-life and either being decomissioned improperly or just losing their freon content through leaks more often - but as the article notes: there's plenty of unregulated business activity in Asia.
Eikka
not rated yet May 17, 2018
CFC compounds are used for one thing cleaning flux residues off of photovoltaic cells in manufacturing, when the cell interconnects are soldered to make panels. These solvents are used because unlike ethanol/propanol etc. based solvents they do not contain water or leave hydrocarbon residues that would otherwise be trapped in the panel and cause degradiation over time.

The evaporating solvents are supposed to be captured, but when cheap sweatshops assemble the panels by hand they're just slopping the stuff around and it goes up the ventilation system.

Eikka
not rated yet May 17, 2018
https://www.astm....192S.htm
Solvents Used in Cold Cleaning

Fluorotrichloromethane (trichlorofluoromethane)—A dense, colorless liquid, highly volatile, nonflammable, and miscible with most organic compounds. It is used in mixtures where a fast evaporation rate is desired and in closed-loop flushing operations.

Trichlorotrifluoroethane (1,1,2-trichloro-1, 2,2-trifluoroethane)— A nonflammable, colorless liquid of high volatility. It is often used in cold cleaning formulations either alone or blended, and its lower solvency for synthetics makes it especially suited to the degreasing of electrical insulation and many plastics and elastomers.


It is also possible that manufacturers of solvents are "spiking" their product with illegal chemicals to improve their properties without telling their customers, or the customers simply don't care because nobody's checking anyhow.
SwamiOnTheMountain
1 / 5 (1) May 20, 2018
My bad, I guess I shouldn't use all that Freon I saved up in the 80s.
It's all part of the conspiracy to destroy nature. =)
Da Schneib
not rated yet May 20, 2018
Somebody is engaging in clandestine production of Freon for electronics manufacturing, or refrigerators or air conditioners.

I would expect a slight rise from all the old freon AC/refrigeration units reaching end-of-life and either being decomissioned improperly or just losing their freon content through leaks more often - but as the article notes: there's plenty of unregulated business activity in Asia.
If you go check up on this you'll find that they accounted for spent refrigeration equipment. No, this is new production-- and it's against the Montreal Protocol. Someone's cheating.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) May 20, 2018
Despite neither of us liking our conclusions and despite being from different hemispheres, @leetannant and I agree. This is almost certainly Chinese degreaser production for electronics.

I should also emphasize that I don't think this is government policy; corruption is rampant and if the Chinese authorities can be convinced they'll be lining people up against the walls and sending bills for bullets to their families. Embarrassing President Xi is inadvisable; remember the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times and come to the attention of the powerful."
savvys84
1 / 5 (1) May 26, 2018
we are in the 21st century. Surely we have the technology to produce ozone and put it back there

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.