A series of reports had attributed an alarming rise in CFC-11 emissions to Chinese factories, which were reputedly using the ozone-harming gas in their production processes.
The Chinese government, which is stated to have a “zero tolerance” approach to the use of substances outlawed by the Montreal Protocol, has subsequently acted to combat this issue.
A letter from Zeng Rong, a spokesperson from the Chinese embassy in the UK, was recently published in The Guardian and stated: “The government agency in China took the relevant media reports seriously and launched a joint inspection with local authorities.”
Reportedly, out of the 13 businesses investigated so far, only one was found to be using CFC-11. The authorities did, however, discover two other companies producing CFC-11 and CFC-12. The materials have since been seized and charges filed against both the companies and those involved. Beijing says it will now continue to further police and regulate industries to prevent CFC usage.
Attention was first drawn to the issue in May 2018, in an article from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published in science journal Nature. It reported that atmospheric concentrations of the CFC had been dropping at a consistent rate from 2002 to 2012; from then on, however, the rate of decline had slowed by almost 50 per cent.
This indicated that CFC-11 emissions were rising, despite the fact that the CFC had long been phased out by most countries. The ozone-protecting Montreal Protocol, which took effect in 1989, resulted in several countries ceasing CFC-11 production in 1996. Production was stated to have been phased out entirely by 2010, helping speed the recovery of the ozone layer.
Contrary to everyone’s efforts, the findings in the Nature article indicated that some 13,000 tonnes of CFC-11 were estimated to have been released per year since 2012. Consequently, it was clear that the production and use of CFC-11 had recommenced.
An investigative report by The New York Times, published in June, subsequently revealed that factories in China had been using CFC-11 to produce foam insulation. In this application the CFC serves as a blowing agent, which is pumped through liquid material to produce foam.
The business involved cited the low cost of CFC-11, and the high quality of the foam produced by it, as the reason for its usage. According to some reports, they had not been advised of its impacts.
The US-based Environmental Investigation Agency also published a damning report, called Blowing It, which detailed CFC-11 use in China – and further indicated that at least 18 companies were using it.