Banned ozone-destroying chemical makes a mysterious resurgence

A figure displaying CFC production and emission trends

Emissions of a banned, ozone-depleting chemical are on the rise, a group of scientists reported Wednesday, suggesting someone may be secretly manufacturing the pollutant in violation of an worldwide accord.

Scientists have detected an unexpected rise in atmospheric levels of CFC-11, a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) highly damaging to the ozone layer. 'The increase in emission of CFC-11 appears unrelated to past production; this suggests unreported new production, which is inconsistent with the Montreal Protocol, ' Montzka and colleagues conclude.

Another key question is whether there could be another explanation for a slower decline in CFC-11 post-2012, such as a change in the rate of chemical processes such as UV photolysis that break down CFC-11 in the stratosphere, or an increase in emissions from CFC "banks" - reservoirs that persist in old equipment and products that are still in use. If not remedied soon, however, substantial delays in ozone layer recovery could be expected.

High in the atmosphere, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems. Pictured, the Antarctic ozone hole, located above the South Pole.

CFC-11, used primarily for foams, can lasts up to 50 years in the atmosphere once it's released.

"The newer substances that are out there, the replacements for CFC-11, might be more hard or expensive for some countries to produce or get at".

"A timely recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer depends on a sustained decline of CFC-11 concentrations", the wrote.

"The newer substances that are out there, the replacements for CFC-11, might be more hard or expensive for some countries to produce or get at".

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Two decades ago, CFCs - more potent by far as greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide or methane - accounted for around ten percent of human-induced global warming.

The goal of the study was not to point fingers; but figuring out where the emissions are coming from is a crucial environmental question.

Keith Weller, a spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program, which helps implement the protocol, said the findings would be presented to the parties to the agreement for review. The statement also takes note of the importance of identifying the source of the emission increase, and taking the necessary actions against it.

But "continued increase in global CFC-11 emissions will put that progress at risk".

"This treaty can not afford not to follow its tradition and keep its compliance record", he said.

Overall, it is important to underscore that the ozone layer is slowly recovering and ozone-depleting substances are still declining.

"Knowing how much time and effort and resources have gone into healing the ozone layer, and to see this is a shocker, frankly", said Montzka. Nature removes 2 percent of the CFC11 out of the air each year, so concentrations of the chemical in the atmosphere are still falling, but at a slower rate because of the new emissions, Montzka said.

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