Banned Ozone-Destroying Chemicals Still In Production, Scientists Baffled

Banned Ozone-Destroying Chemicals Still In Production, Scientists Baffled

Just last November, I've had the pleasure to report that, according to NASA's measurements, 30 years of worldwide effort and cooperation were doing the ozone layer some good. "In fact, I was amazed by this".

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. CFC-11, used as a refrigerant, is considered the second most damaging of the chemicals phased out under the 1987 Montreal Protocol, The US stopped making it in 1996 and worldwide production had reached nearly zero by 2007. The emissions of the chemical are observed to be rising rapidly as the pollutant is being manufactured in a breach of the global law.

"It's disappointing, I would not have expected it to happen", said Dr Michaela Hegglin from Reading University, UK, who was not involved in the study.

They considered a range of alternative explanations for the growth, such as a change in atmospheric patterns that gradually remove CFC gases in the stratosphere, an increase in the rate of demolition of buildings containing old residues of CFC-11, or accidental production. That loss of ozone, in turn, weakens our protection from UV radiation at the Earth's surface. The results have again brought back the fear of the scientists regarding the hole in the ozone layer. But an analysis of long-term atmospheric measurements suggests it's still being made somewhere in East Asia-and that means the concentrations of CFC-11 in the atmosphere are declining more slowly than they should be.

"It is not clear why any country would want to start to produce, and inadvertently release, CFC-11, when cost effective substitutes have been available for a long while", Watson continued.

Emissions from towers
Emissions from towers

Keith Weller, a spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program, which helps implement the protocol, said the findings would be presented to the parties to the agreement for review.

"If the emissions were to persist, then we could imagine that healing of the ozone layer, that recovery date, could be delayed by a decade", said Dr Montzka. The statement also takes note of the importance of identifying the source of the emission increase, and taking the necessary actions against it.

But Zaelke thought the finding could promote tougher action.

"They're going to find the culprits. That's a tough group of people". 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.

However, it took many decades for scientists to discover that when CFCs break down in the atmosphere, they release chlorine atoms that are able to rapidly destroy ozone molecules. This, in turn, will delay the ozone layer's recovery, and in the meantime leave it more vulnerable to other threats. If the source can be identified and controlled soon, they said, the damage to the ozone layer "should be minor".

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