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Science & Technology

Ozone hole mystery: China insulating chemical said to be source of rise

Monday 09/July/2018 - 11:32 AM
Sada El Balad
Cut-price Chinese home insulation is being blamed for a massive rise in emissions of a gas، highly damaging to the Earth's protective ozone layer، according to "BBC".
The Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) found widespread use of CFC-11 in China، even though the chemical was fully banned back in 2010.
Scientists have been extremely puzzled by the mysterious rise in emissions.
But this report suggests the key source is China's home construction industry.
Just two months ago، researchers published a study showing that the expected decline in the use of CFC-11 after it was completely banned eight years ago had slowed to a crawl.
There were suspicions among researchers that new supplies were being made somewhere in East Asia.
Rumours were rife as to the source. There was a concern among some experts that the chemical was being used to secretly enrich uranium for use in nuclear weapons.
The reality it seems is more about insulation than proliferation.
CFC-11 makes a very efficient "blowing agent" for polyurethane foam، helping it to expand into rigid thermal insulation that's used in houses to cut energy bills and reduce carbon emissions.
Researchers from the EIA، a green campaign group، contacted foam manufacturing factories in 10 different provinces across China. From their detailed discussions with executives in 18 companies، the investigators concluded that the chemical is used in the majority of the polyurethane insulation the firms produce.
One seller of CFC-11 estimated that 70% of China's domestic sales used the illegal gas. The reason is quite simple - CFC-11 is better quality and much cheaper than the alternatives.
The authorities have banned CFC-11 but enforcement of the regulation is poor.
"We were absolutely gobsmacked to find that companies very openly confirmed using CFC-11 while acknowledging it was illegal،" Avipsa Mahapatra from EIA told BBC News.
"The fact that they were so blasé about it، the fact that they told us very openly how pervasive it is in the market، these were shocking findings for us."
The EIA says that its estimates of the amount of the gas being used in China are in the middle of the emissions range calculated by scientists in their report in May.
The scientist who first highlighted the problem with CFC-11 said the EIA findings seemed plausible، although it was difficult to be definitive.
Dr Stephen Montzka from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) told BBC News: "The pervasiveness of the use of CFC-11 that seems apparent in China based on their survey is quite amazing، although it is hard for me to assess the accuracy of the emission estimate they make to know if it is indeed likely that this activity can explain all or most of what we are observing in the global atmosphere."

Edited by Rasha Mohamed

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