China’s construction industry is pumping out banned, ozone-destroying CFCs, report finds

A report issued today by the Environmental Investigations Agency (EIA) has revealed China as the mystery source of an ozone-destroying gas that has been banned by international protocol since 2010.

In what’s being described as "an environmental crime on a massive scale", 18 companies in 10 Chinese provinces admitted to EIA researchers that they used CFC-11 as a blowing agent in making polyurethane (PU) foams for insulating buildings and appliances.

In May this year scientists revealed that atmospheric levels of CFC-11 – banned under the Montreal Protocol since 2010 – were significantly higher than expected, leading them to conclude that new illegal production and use of CFC-11 was occurring in East Asia.

The investigation by the EIA, a London-based campaign group, found that wide-spread illegal production and use of CFC-11 is occurring in China to supply the rigid PU foam industry.

Traders and buyers of CFC-11 in China told the EIA that it is used in the majority of China’s rigid PU foam sector.

A total of 18 polyol blend producing factories out of 21 that EIA sources spoke to confirmed using CFC-11. At least 70% of the 18 companies indicated that it was the majority of their production, the EIA said in its report.

Some even acknowledged the illegality of their actions and explained that it was used because it was cheaper and made more effective foams.

The EIA said China now has a significant compliance issue to address and must clamp down immediately on illegal production and use of CFC-11.

"This is an environmental crime on a massive scale," said EIA campaign leader Clare Perry. "How the Montreal Protocol addresses this issue will determine whether it continues to merit its reputation as the world’s most effective environmental treaty."

The report is released ahead of the Open-Ended Working Group of the Montreal Protocol meeting in Vienna this week.

"We strongly urge the Government of China and Parties to the Montreal Protocol to acknowledge the huge scale of this environmental crime and take immediate action to investigate further, implement legislative reform and ensure effective intelligence-led enforcement," the EIA said in a statement.

Image: Staff member at Dacheng Desheng Chemical Co Ltd in China shows barrels containing CFC-11 (EIA)

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