Banned Ozone-Damaging Chemical 'CFC-11' is Likely Being Produced By an Unknown Source

Wednesday, 16 May 2018 - 7:53PM
Wednesday, 16 May 2018 - 7:53PM
Banned Ozone-Damaging Chemical 'CFC-11' is Likely Being Produced By an Unknown Source
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Despite the resistance to fighting climate change that we still have to deal with, some aspects of our planet are improving due to global efforts to reduce our impact - namely, the ozone layer is finally reforming. 

Last fall, it was reported that the hole in the Earth's ozone layer had shrunk to its smallest size since 1988, which was great news. This was partly because nations had all agreed to ban or phase out CFCs, which are short for "chlorofluorocarbons" but are simply called "ozone-depleting substances", due to an international treaty back in the 1980s called the Montreal Protocol

And while the treaty has typically been abided by over the years, as evident by the gradually reforming ozone, a team of researchers found evidence that somebody is producing large amounts of CFC-11 without telling anybody. As one of the most potentially dangerous and previously widespread CFCs, used in refrigerants, spray can propellant, styrofoam production, etc., this is a worrying substance to be making a resurgence.

According to the report, published in Nature and led by Stephen Montzka of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the amount of CFC-11 had gradually been declining over time as countries stopped producing it and what remained in the atmosphere faded out, but its rate of decline sharply decreased over the past year.

Specifically, the rate of decrease for CFC-11 in Earth's atmosphere was fairly steady at 2.1 parts-per-trillion from 2002 to 2012, but it slowed all the way to 1 part-per-trillion from 2015 to 2017. 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. 

The report states:

Opening quote
"This is the first time that 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. A delay in ozone recovery [...] is anticipated, with an overall importance depending on the trajectory of CFC-11 emissions and concentrations in the future."
Closing quote

It's tough to narrow down a specific culprit, but the NOAA can make distinctions between emissions from the northern and southern hemispheres, and the sudden uptick in CFC-11 seems to be coming from the northern hemisphere.

That still leaves a lot of potential suspects, and it's important figure out who it is soon. We're still doing damage to the Earth in a whole lot of other ways, and we don't need a resurgence of a problem we thought we'd solved.
Science News