Published: Thu, May 17, 2018
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

A Mystery Source Is Producing Banned Ozone-Destroying Chemicals, Shocking Scientists

A Mystery Source Is Producing Banned Ozone-Destroying Chemicals, Shocking Scientists

The increase in emission of CFC-11 appears unrelated to past production; this suggests unreported new production, which is inconsistent with the Montreal Protocol agreement to phase out global CFC production by 2010.

At its most depleted, around the turn of the 21st century, the ozone layer had declined by about five percent. "Further work is needed to figure out exactly why emissions of CFC-11 are increasing and if something can be done about it soon".

Something odd 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.

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. In 2012, however, the rate of decline suddenly reduced by about 50% - indicating that new source of production had started up. Though concentrations of CFC11 in the atmosphere are still declining, they're declining more slowly than they would if there were no new sources, Montzka said. Rather, the evidence "strongly suggests" a new source of emissions, the scientists wrote.

However, a study recently published in Nature reveals that CFC-11 production may be happening somewhere in the world despite the Montreal Protocol.

Exploring further, the researchers found the concentration of CFC-11 to be unusually high in the Northern Hemisphere. Which makes it look a whole lot like at least one country is producing the chemical again and lying about it, because lots of agencies (like the NOAA, as shown here) and the United Nations monitor reported amounts of these chemicals.

While the new analysis can't definitively explain why emissions of CFC11 are increasing, but Montzka suspects covert production.

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To put that in perspective, production of CFC-11, marketed under the trade name Freon, peaked at about 430,000 tons per year in the 1980s.

But there a growing scientific doubts about the progress of healing in the ozone hole.

He calls it "rogue production", adding that if it continues "the recovery of the ozone layer would be threatened".

These findings represent the first time emissions of one of the three most abundant, long-lived CFCs have increased for a sustained period since production controls took effect in the late 1980s.

If the source of these new emissions can be identified and controlled soon, the damage to the ozone layer should be minor, Montzka said.

"It is therefore imperative that this finding be discussed at the next Ministerial meeting of Governments given recovery of the ozone layer is dependent on all countries complying with the Montreal Protocol (and its adjustments and amendments) with emissions globally dropping to zero".

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