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CUSTOMS and enforcement officers from Europe and Asia recently received ‘Ozone Protection Awards’ for their role in combating the illegal trade of ozone-depleting refrigerants in the region.

Handed down by the Regional Ozone Network for Europe and Central Asia, which comes under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the awards provide an insight into the extent of the problem – and could be just the tip of the iceberg, with claims of more than 10 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent HFCs entering the EU illegally last year alone.

In the period from May 2014 to April 2016, the award winners reported 258 successful seizures of 9947 pieces of equipment and 10,201 refrigerant cylinders/containers containing more than 70 tonnes of ozone-depleting substances (ODS), mixtures, products and equipment. 

The Ukraine also estimates that around 50,000 air-conditioning split systems illegally entered the country, declared as R134a equipment but containing R22.

In addition, informal prior informed consent (iPIC) consultations conducted before trade licences were issued avoided 16 unwanted or illegal shipments of more than 174 tonnes of ODS.

Medals were presented to officers from Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, Croatia, the EU, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Compared with previous editions of the award program, the number of reported seizures increased significantly due to the large number in Belgium (147) and Germany (48). Uzbekistan reported 15 seizures of 8589 refrigerant cylinders/cans containing 10,852 kg of refrigerants R12, R22 as well as alternatives R134a (HFC) and R600a (hydrocarbon) without shipment documents.

The investigations have led to the arrest and subsequent conviction of many offenders, with penalties including prison sentences, fines and bans on practicing any profession resulting in air pollution.

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